Five major downtown improvement projects – ranging from completing the reconstruction of the entire 700 block of South Gay Street to replacing 27,000 square feet of brick sidewalks on four blocks of Gay Street – are underway or soon will be started.
Those projects include:
- A $1.5 million rebuild of the 700 block of South Gay Street, between Cumberland and Church avenues;
- Upgrades to the intersections of Gay Street with Cumberland, Church and Clinch avenues;
- A roughly $1 million replacement of more than 1,000 parking meters throughout downtown and along the Cumberland Avenue Corridor;
- Repairs to the brick sidewalks on South Gay Street between Summit Hill Drive and Church Avenue; and
- Repaving most of the streets throughout downtown.
Work on the 700 block of South Gay Street has been extended past its initial target date for completion. However, the sidewalk on the western side of the street has been rebuilt, and the northbound and southbound traffic lanes are scheduled to open in August. Work then will shift to rebuilding the sidewalk on the eastern side of the street, with access to businesses being continually maintained.
“We’re turning the corner toward completion on this complicated project,” said Jim Hagerman, the City’s Engineering Director. “This is work that obviously needed to be done and is a major investment for downtown. Some of the underground utility infrastructure in this block was almost 100 years old, and most of it wasn’t mapped because of its age. The contractor encountered some difficulty when rebuilding the maze of lines and pipes in a very tight space. The work needed to be done carefully and done the right way.
“Our No. 1 priority is completing this project, reopening this block of South Gay Street and supporting the businesses and residents in this block. Now, and at all times moving ahead, the businesses on the eastern side of the street will remain accessible to pedestrians.”
While crews are performing the more than $3.5 million in City infrastructure upgrades throughout downtown, pedestrians and motorists will face intermittent short-term challenges – street lanes or sections of sidewalks closed. Knoxville Utilities Board is continuing its downtown infrastructure upgrades. But when all the upgrades are completed, downtown will be in its best overall physical condition in years, according to Hagerman and Downtown Coordinator Rick Emmett.
“We’re addressing all the issues,” Emmett said. “We know our downtown merchants and visitors will be inconvenienced as these improvement projects unfold, but we’re working hard to minimize any traffic, bicycle or pedestrian disruptions. The brick sidewalk repairs will be done incrementally, one small section at a time, so people won’t have much trouble walking to their favorite restaurants or businesses.”
Hagerman added: “When we’re finished, Gay Street and all the public amenities downtown will be in really great shape for many years to come.”
Here’s an update on status of the improvement projects throughout downtown:
Brick sidewalks on Gay Street
City Council tonight (Tuesday, July 19) is scheduled to vote on authorization of a $582,000 contract with Design and Construction Services Inc. to repair the brick sidewalks on South Gay Street between Summit Hill Drive and Church Avenue. Many bricks have become dislodged, broken or missing over the decades since they were installed.
Commemorative bricks with inscriptions that people purchased in the 1980s will be preserved and reset; other bricks will be replaced.
Emmett said a series of small sections of sidewalk will be replaced, following a five-month schedule that minimizes the effects on businesses and residents.
“The work will be done in such a way that we won’t have to close large sections of the sidewalk at any time,” he said.
700 block of South Gay Street
The project includes utility upgrades, new pervious paver sidewalks, streetscape additions and new intersections. New street trees and intersection bulb-outs are being built to improve pedestrian safety and better define on-street parking.
By mid- to late August, workers are expected to finish up the street and move on to replacing the sidewalk on the eastern side of Gay Street. The western sidewalk has reopened.
Silva cells for trees were installed on the western side of the street to create greater soil volume and promote tree health. Installing the underground structural cells on the eastern side as initially planned is impractical, due to the close proximity between basements and key utility connections, but the east sidewalk will have bigger tree wells and more soil than the existing sidewalk.
Three telecommunications companies – Comcast, AT&T and Wow! – have taken advantage of the City’s utility upgrades to install new conduit for their companies. The coordination contributed to the extended construction timeline, but it avoided the City and the companies doing separate digs and will create expanded services for the companies’ downtown customers.
Once the 700 block reopens to vehicular traffic, the sidewalk on the eastern side will be completed and trees will be planted. Access will be maintained to businesses at all times.
In the next month, Gay Street intersections with Cumberland and Church avenues will be reconstructed before the 700 block reopens.
Then, after the street reopens, a third intersection – Gay and Clinch Avenue – will be rebuilt, requiring alternating lane closures. The reconstruction of the intersection of Gay and Clinch, which also includes a pedestrian-friendly sidewalk bulb-out, is being coordinated with a Tennessee Theatre project to repair its marquee and vertical sign. (For details, visit http://www.tennesseetheatre.com/marquee/.)
Currently, the Gay Street intersections with Church and Clinch avenues are medallions that combine brick and concrete, and they’ve badly deteriorated. Bricks have become dislodged, and the asphalt patches are rough.
“The concrete supporting the brick medallions has broken up and has become uneven and irreparable over the years,” Hagerman said.
The final step will be the stamping and application of thermoplastic to the three decorative intersections (Gay Street at Cumberland, Church and Clinch). That finishing touch will be done at night.
This summer, the City will begin the repaving of more than 3.8 miles – or almost 54,000 square yards – of downtown streets.
The City is paying $382,041 to resurface these streets:
- South Central Street, from Summit Hill Drive to Main Street;
- Clinch Avenue, from Walnut Street to South Central Street;
- Cumberland Avenue, from Walnut Street to South Central Street;
- West Hill Avenue, from Henley Street to State Street.
- Locust Street, from Main Street to Neyland Drive;
- Main Street, from Walnut Street to South Central Street;
- State Street, from Summit Hill Drive to West Hill Avenue;
- State Street, from West Jackson Avenue to Summit Hill Drive;
- Union Avenue, from Walnut Street to South Central Street; and
- Walnut Street, from Main Street to Neyland Drive.
Meanwhile, KUB is paying $99,690 to repave these streets:
- South Broadway, from West Hill Avenue to Front Avenue;
- Church Avenue, from Walnut Street to State Street;
- Commerce Avenue, from State Street to South Central Street;
- Front Avenue, from South Broadway Street to Locust Street;
- South Gay Street, from Cumberland Avenue to West Hill Avenue;
- Maplehurst Court, from West Hill Avenue to South End;
- Summit Hill Drive, from State Street to South Central Street.
Once these roads are resurfaced, pending coordination with utility work, another 2.4 miles of downtown streets will be repaved, including portions of Clinch, Church, Cumberland, Hill and Union avenues and portions of Locust, Main, Poplar and Walnut streets, plus a section of Summer Place.
As part of a comprehensive approach to managing public parking in downtown and in Fort Sanders, the City will be installing more than 1,000 new solar-powered parking meters between Aug. 8 and Aug. 19.
The new meters will accept credit cards or change. Short-term meters will charge $1.50 an hour with a two-hour limit, while long-term meters (on the north end of the Gay Street Viaduct and along Depot Avenue and South Central Street) will charge 30 cents an hour, with a 10-hour limit.
Public garage parking will remain $1 an hour, with free garage parking on weekends and after 6 p.m. on weekdays.
New meters will be installed along the length of Gay Street from Summit Hill Drive to Hill Avenue. On-street meters will be in effect Monday through Saturday throughout downtown, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Gay Street and around Market Square, and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. everywhere else.