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Staff file photo by Tim Barber The city plans to turn East M.L. King Boulevard into a three-lane road from Georgia Avenue to Central Avenue. Work is expected to start about March 5.

A section of M.L. King Boulevard downtown will go permanently from four lanes to three starting in March as the city carries out a major remake of the key artery in and out of Chattanooga.

The aim is to slow traffic on East M.L. King between Georgia and Central avenues, making the 1-mile stretch more pedestrian friendly and adding bike lanes, according to the city.

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Staff photo by Mike Pare Bharat Chaudhari, center, of Kanku's Food Mart on East M.L. King Boulevard, talks with Blythe Bailey, left, Chattanooga Department of Transportation administrator, and Jim Williamson, River City's vice president of planning and development, about plans to change the road from four to three lanes.

Timeline

Remaking East M.L. King is slated to start March 5. Work will be over about 45 days with road closures done in four phases:

› Phase one: Georgia Avenue to Lindsay Street

› Phase two: Lindsay to Douglas Street

› Phase three: Douglas to Magnolia Street

› Phase four: Magnolia to Central Avenue

Source: City of Chattanooga

Blythe Bailey, the Chattanooga Department of Transportation's administrator, said work is expected to start about March 5 and take some 45 days. The project, which will provide one lane of traffic each way with a center turn lane, will cost about $845,000.

Parts of East M.L. King will close over the period while work is done in four phases, each taking from a week to nine days to complete, Bailey said. Each piece of roadway will be milled down to make it unusable until it's rebuilt.

Bailey termed the makeover "another step to a more livable" downtown. He said the road will be safer while keeping valuable on-street parking and providing the bike lanes.

Some business people along the road indicated it's a matter of short-term pain for long-term gain.

Matt Busby, who directs The Camp House restaurant and coffee shop on M.L. King, said the street change will slow traffic and make the area more walkable.

"That's a key to success," he said.

Lauren Turner, owner of the 423 St. Francis clothing store on M.L. King, said the work will be frustrating for a month or so.

"After that it will be beautiful," she said.

Jennifer Brown of Heinsman Law Group just off M.L. King said the work will be "a little bit of a pain, but it will be all right."

By year's end, work also could start to trim the number of lanes on the road as it becomes Bailey Avenue, according to the city. A two-mile section of Bailey is to go to three lanes all the way to Dodds Avenue. That work is awaiting Tennessee Department of Transportation approvals, and a price estimate wasn't immediately available, though state money is expected to help.

Some Chattanooga motorists Tuesday had differing views of cutting the number of traffic lanes on the busy road.

Marvin Cornelison termed the trimming of lanes "crazy." Motorists already are fighting traffic snarls, and bicyclists aren't using the bike lanes downtown, he said.

"All the working people, it's hard to park," Cornelison said.

Tommy Rayburn said he doesn't have a problem with the road work, though he could see that rush-hour traffic could be affected. He said the work reminded him of what the city has done on Dodds Avenue, where the road was three-laned from East 23rd Street to East Lake Academy.

According to the city, lower expected speeds during the one hour peak time in the morning and afternoon are expected to increase travel time on M.L. King about three to five minutes.

For more online

connect.chattanooga.gov/mlkblvd

To help business people over the next month or so, downtown redevelopment group River City Co. is offering incentives to woo patrons to the area and encourage the merchants to stay open regular hours.

Jim Williamson, River City's vice president of planning and development, said a meeting recently with M.L. King merchants indicated that while they aren't happy with the street closings, "they understand the long-term good."

Williamson said that parking will remain the same after the work is done and may even yield a few more spaces.

M.L. King carries about 10,000 cars per day, according to the city. Even though the speed limit is 25 mph, prevailing speeds are 35 mph to 41 mph. On Bailey Avenue, while the speed limit is 35 mph, motorists tend to travel at 44 mph to 47 mph, city figures show.

In addition, the crash histories of M.L. King and Bailey are almost 3 times the statewide average of those on a similar type of corridor, according to the city. Street redesigns such as the one for M.L. King are proven to reduce crashes by 20 percent to 50 percent, city officials said.

In 2016, the Chattanooga Department of Transportation finalized a report for M.L. King that recommended reducing the road from four lanes to three with the addition of bike lanes.

The cost for the M.L. King project will be 30 percent less per square foot than the repaving of Northpoint Boulevard last summer, according to the city.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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