TDOT reconsiders funding US 27's re-working - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

TDOT reconsiders funding US 27's re-working

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Not everybody on Stringer's Ridge is thrilled with TDOT's $102.5 million widening of Highway 27 north of the Olgiati Bridge.

"I don't think you can ever make everybody happy about a major highway project," Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield says.

But broader dissension has prompted TDOT to take its $80 million companion project off-budget.

That plan would widen the bridge itself, soften some of 27's sharp curves leading up to it, and re-work the interchange at ML King Boulevard.

"I wish they (TDOT) had considered it a little more," says Henry Schulson, Executive Director of the Creative Discovery Museum.

TDOT's plans call for keeping the on-and-off ramps at Fourth Street, right where they are. The Museum is next to the on-ramp for the northbound lanes.

"Any future expansion for the museum has to be behind the museum," Schulson says. "So it really locks us in a little more."

The design firm Elemi, puts it even more bluntly in its presentation to the River City Company, a downtown economic development group.

"It creates a vast wasteland of unusable space between the ramp and the roadway," architect Eric Myers intones.

"In our new and improved strategy, we gain an entire city block. But to create this cultural gateway, the ramps on US 27 must move the same place as the roadway."

Closer to Cameron Hill, and the First Baptist Church.

The congregation is used to the traffic being part of its Joyful Noise, lay committee chairman Dan Mayfield tells Eyewitness News.

"Our concerns are the green spaces and parking spaces we'd lose," he says. "And the disruption during construction. We're talking about a five or six-year project."

River City Company raises questions about a roundabout planned for the ML King interchange.

"As a city, we're concerned about the pedestrians and making it more people friendly," President/CEO Kim White says.

"If we're trying to create a corridor down ML King, and connect to UT-Chattanooga and the Riverfront, it's not very pedestrian friendly."

But easements and design changes get expensive. Quickly.

"We went down this same road 20 years ago and got stopped because there was a lot of dissension," Mayor Littlefield says.

TDOT Commissioner John Schroer is on record that he won't fund projects when citizens clearly don't want them.

Mayor Littlefield says Schroer and TDOT engineers shouldn't take criticism as a rejection. He's hopeful that TDOT will put the project back into its master plans after he and the River City Company meet with Schroer and other engineers next month.

"I'm 66," Mayor Littlefield says. "I don't want to be 86, trying to drive through this mishmash of traffic problems we have in downtown Chattanooga."

But Schulson believes it's about a lot more than what the Creative Discovery Museum might build out its back door.

"What we build is going to be here almost forever," he says. "It's the first impression people get when they come into the city, and it really has to be done in a way that's outstanding."

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