With the final draft of the area's comprehensive growth plan finally complete, residents may soon see some of the changes designed to balance incoming growth with road infrastructure and other needed services take shape. But those aren't the only benefits they might see, says Pam Glaser, principal planner for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency.
If the draft finds favor in the eyes of planning officials and its suggestions are implemented as listed, the resulting landscape could also make public transportation feasible in the White Oak Mountain Area, which consists of Apison, Collegedale, East Brainerd, Ooltewah and Summit.
The prospect comes as a byproduct of the plan's theme of cultivating activity centers.
Some of the areas highlighted in the plan are Old Apison, which planners say could be developed into a rural village center similar to Leiper's Fork, Tenn.; the intersection of East Brainerd and Ooltewah-Ringgold roads, which could be developed into a walkable neighborhood center reminiscent of the mixed-use Berry Farms community in Franklin, Tenn.; and Cambridge Square, which is already being developed as a town center.
These concentrated centers would help maintain the area's rural character by attracting commercial developers to one specific place, keeping commercial growth from spreading outward to areas that don't have the infrastructure for it, Glaser said.
They would also pave the way for bus lines and other public transportation opportunities.
"By creating those centers and clusters of people and business, the potential for transit in the future is much greater," Glaser said.
Right now, Glaser said it would be very difficult to implement transit throughout the White Oak Mountain Area, which is mostly suburban with homes spread out. The only transit option currently recognized for the area's future is a bus line from downtown to Enterprise South near Volkswagen and Amazon, as shown in the 2045 Regional Transportation Plan draft.
If the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority was to consider implementing other transit options once the planned centers began to take shape, transportation officials would first need to study population numbers and area density before they could map out potential routes, Glaser noted.
In addition to studying where people are, CARTA Director Lisa Maragnano said the transit provider would also need to determine where it is that people want to go. She listed employment centers, colleges, hospitals and the downtown area as a few of those potential destinations.
Though there hasn't been public outcry specifically for public transportation, which wasn't featured prominently in the plan due to its lack of feasibility, Glaser said several survey respondents expressed a desire for multimodal options that would alleviate traffic congestion, such as bike lanes and sidewalks.
Public transportation would do much more than just reduce traffic, said Maragnano.
"If they're trying to cut down on congestion, cut down on environmental pollution, cut down on their stress level, they can take the bus and reduce the number of cars on the road," she said. " They can save anywhere between $8,000 to $10,000 a year per family depending on where they live, the time of year and gas prices. There's a lot of benefits to having public transportation."
While there is no specific timeline, Glaser said the White Oak Mountain Area could begin to resemble the recommendations in the growth plan in as soon as 10 years. She pointed to the North Shore area as an example.
When the RPA created its plan for the North Shore district in 2007, it was a "derelict area," she said.
"It's hard for people to picture that, but it was," said Glaser, describing the vacant industries and old naval yard. "That one has come along in pieces, but the plan really helped us envision what it could be."
Today, North Shore, a mecca for dining and shopping with plenty of mixed-use housing, has seen about 90 percent of the work envisioned in the RPA's plan, she said.
How quickly it takes plans for the White Oak Mountain Area to reach fruition will be up to residents, she added.
"That's a common question we get: 'When's this going to happen? How are you going to do this?'" Glaser said. " We point the finger backwards and say it's about the community and working with elected officials and your government."
The draft of the comprehensive growth plan can be viewed online at chcrpa.org. It is expected to go before the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission in May.
Email Myron Madden at email@example.com.