The $250,000 cost of replacing an outdated traffic signaling system on Barton Avenue is too much for the city to take on at this time, City Traffic Engineer John Van Winkle said.
"We have no money," Mr. Van Winkle told a crowd of about 50 people Thursday afternoon.
An angry crowd showed up at Girls Preparatory School, most to protest changes in signaling on Barton Avenue between Veterans Bridge and Hixson Pike. The traffic signals for years have been reversible for the middle lane, used during peak hours to create a second lane for traffic coming into the city during the morning and out of the city in the afternoon.
The system was built in 1984 using parts from the 1960s, Mr. Van Winkle said.
Two weeks ago, the city put up orange barrels and decided to make the avenue two lanes with a permanent turn lane, getting rid of the reversible lane.
"I don't like the change at all," said Tonya Gentry, who lives in North Chattanooga. "I can't pull out on Barton Avenue, and it's slowed my commute by five minutes."
Councilwoman Deborah Scott and Councilwoman Sally Robinson arranged for the public forum at GPS. They wanted to get feedback from residents and also have a chance for city officials to explain why the city made the change.
Mr. Van Winkle told audience members the cost of replacement would be too much. He also said the signals would interfere with a proposed school crossing walk being put in for Normal Park Magnet School.
He said people need to be patient until drivers take alternate routes such as Fernway Road to Dallas Road to Market Street.
"We'll see traffic drop," he said. "It may take a month or two."
Meryl Searcy, who lives on Barton Avenue, said she moved to the area last year and one thing she liked were the reversible lanes. Now the traffic in the morning is unbearable, she said.
"Cars are stopped," she said. "They're stopped. And it doesn't last 30 minutes, it lasts an hour and a half."
Marty Brown, who also lives in North Chattanooga, said she likes the change. She said she now enjoys crossing into the turning lane and said people just need to get used to it.
"It's like the change to McCallie and MLK when they went to two-way streets," she said.
Mrs. Robinson said she and Mrs. Scott would continue to monitor feedback from residents over the next several months.
"It's a very controversial change," she said. "It's a major corridor."