Jackson Avenue Streetscape Details and Schedule, Plus Viaduct Reconstructions

Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, October 2016
Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, October 2016

If you’ve walked through the area recently, you know the sidewalk between State and Central is nearly complete and looks great. It’s already hard to picture all the poles, wires and busted pieces of thin sidewalk we used to traverse. When I look at that stretch, I always remember the concerns of some that the re-design would change the Old City – and it has. Clearly it doesn’t look quite as scruffy as it used to and that’s good or bad depending on perspective. Accompanying the improvements have been dramatically increased rents in that part of town.

The treatment will now move westward on Jackson between the current improvements and the Jackson Ave. ramp and then westward to Broadway. What’s left east of the viaduct isn’t quite as bad as the adjacent stretch was before its makeover, but it’s pretty rough. Wider sidewalks and fewer obstructions will make this section easier to traverse and – given the unattractive nature of using the Summit Hill option to walk to the Old City from uptown, it’s nice to see this improved. It includes the section leading to the Jackson Terminal Building and, given all the improvement there, it’s good for them to be given better access.

Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, October 2016
Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, October 2016

West of the viaduct is much worse. The city has announced that it will focus only on the southern side of the street since the inevitable development of the McClung Warehouse site will disrupt any improvements on the north side. Anyone who has walked the sidewalks from Gay to Broadway understands how desperately this section needs work. The sidewalk is likely the worst downtown  and now there is a scattering of business from the viaduct all the way to Broadway.

KUB will get the first crack at the section of road. Representatives of KUB detail the following as needing replacement: 1,000 feet of natural gas main, 950 feet of water main and 502 feet of sewer main. The cost will reportedly run to $580,000. Their work will require that section of Jackson – from Gay to Broadway – to be closed for the duration. They have committed to keeping access to businesses and parking lots. Their work will begin within the next three weeks or so, with a projected completion date of April 2017.

But that’s just the first phase. After KUB finishes their work, the city (with 80% of funding coming from TDOT) will begin the streetscape portion of the project. Their stated goal: “Provide pedestrian connectivity and encourage development. Bidding for the project is scheduled for this fall, with spring construction to coincide with the completion of KUB’s portion, slated for April, as noted above. Estimated completion is set for early 2018.



This means the road will be under construction of one sort or another starting in November and running through sometime early in 2018. So we can anticipate just over a year of inconvenience, right? Not so fast my road-paving friend: The re-construction of the Jackson Avenue Ramp is set for 2018. So, there may be a brief respite, but it will be followed by closure of the Gay Street and Jackson Avenue intersection.

Jackson Avenue Ramp construction is projected to begin in 2018. Rick Emmett indicated that would likely be mid-2018. At least all the projects will run at different times, right? Again, not so fast my friend: There is also the little matter of the Broadway viaduct reconstruction. Just around the corner from all the Jackson Avenue fun, that project is slated to begin demo of the old viaduct (closing Broadway) sometime around late-summer 2017 and is expected to last from 24 – 28 months.
Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, October 2016
Jackson Terminal Building, Jackson Avenue Viaduct, Knoxville, October 2016
Broadway Viaduct before Demolition, December 2012, Knoxville
Broadway Viaduct before Demolition, December 2012, Knoxville (Note the Date of this photo and the fact that the demolition seemed imminent to me at the time – will it be delayed, again?)
If I’ve done all the math correctly and understand what was announced, Jackson Avenue will still be closed when the Broadway viaduct is destroyed. Broadway between Depot and Jackson will be closed throughout 2018. So, from about mid-2018 through perhaps 2019, or at least sometime that year, Broadway and Gay Street at or near the Jackson Avenue crossing, will be closed. Commuting from the north into the city and vise versa will be challenging, with Central Street and Hall of Fame likely taking the extra traffic.
All of these changes will be painful for commuters and the businesses involved. No doubt the areas impacted will be much more attractive, functional and safe after the work, but there’s no way to get there except through the pain involved. Here’s hoping that the pain is worth it, that in the aftermath the vacant retail spaces on Jackson are filled, downtown visitors have a more positive experience and the McClung Warehouse site gives birth to something phenomenal.

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