While the City Council voted unanimously in favor of $310 million in budget proposals for 2017 on Tuesday, the body split on whether to seek a state grant for a proposed $2.2 million Alton Park greenway connector.
The council voted 9-0 on the final passage of the $230 million operations budget and 9-0 on its initial approval of an $80 million capital budget. The council will vote on the final passage of the capital budget on July 5.
The Alton Park trail proposal calls for creating a shared-use path for pedestrians and cyclists that begins near the intersection of Central Avenue and 38th Street and follows an abandoned CSX rail corridor north to West 33rd Street and turns west to connect to a section of the Riverwalk that will soon parallel St. Elmo Avenue.
Chattanooga transportation engineer Bert Kuyrkendall told the council approximately 7,600 residents live within 10 minutes of the proposed trail. According to grant formulas, 5 percent of those people, about 400, can be expected to use the trail to access nearby areas, whether for work, shopping or school, he said.
The council voted 6-3 in favor of authorizing the Chattanooga Department of Transportation to apply for a Tennessee Department of Transportation Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant that would cover all but $440,000 of the project's estimated cost.
Outside the voting session, Councilmen Larry Grohn, Chip Henderson and Ken Smith, who all voted against the measure, cited concerns over the value and impact of the project.
"I have an issue with the city spending tax dollars on more bike lanes when we are facing an unprecedented number of shootings and violent crime in our community," Smith said. "A high number of those actually occur in the Alton Park area. So, if we are going to invest this kind of money in the Alton Park area, I would prefer to invest it in the people directly that live there — through workforce development, job readiness, jobs — so that we can actually start addressing the poverty and crime that those citizens are dealing with every day."
Henderson said it came down to getting the most benefit for the tax dollars, comparing the number of people estimated to use the Alton Park greenway connector to the number of people using roads that need repaving.
In an agenda meeting prior to the voting session, Grohn publicly questioned the grant's purpose and its usage on the greenway connector.
"I think this is a huge stretch for what the CMAQ grant is meant to do in terms of reducing congestion and reducing air pollution," said Grohn, who asked how the trail might reduce bus riding numbers from Alton Park.
The fact that a lot of Alton Park residents use the bus makes for a greater reason to have better walking and biking connectivity, Kuyrkendall said.
"Basically, it's providing facilities to connect Alton Park, really, to the rest of the city," Kuyrkendall said. "This really does fit well in that it connects the entire neighborhood to a lot of opportunities in the city. So it really is a great application for the CMAQ."
Councilman Chris Anderson, who represents Alton Park, expressed dismay over Grohn's comments.
"It shocks me — shocks me — that a member of this body says we shouldn't apply for this grant or imply that we don't meet the criteria," Anderson said.
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @pleach_tfp.