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Central Ave. extension hits public roadblock

The beginning stages of a Central Avenue extension project are already shaking up the neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

At a preliminary public hearing held by the city of Chattanooga last week, nearly 100 area citizens were present, and many of them met the idea of a road through their neighborhood connecting the city to Riverside Drive with adversity.

City Public Works Engineering Manager Fritz Brogdon, who led the proposal discussion and answered the questions and concerns of those in attendance, said the city has been looking at connecting to Riverside Drive since the 1970s.

“It’s about enhancing connectivity, increasing the pedestrian and bicycle access and traffic to that area,” he said of the project.

Presently, the city is seeking federal assistance to connect Central to Riverside. The National Environmental Policy Act requires that the city conduct in-depth analysis of the area in preparation.

“NEPA will evaluate this corridor based on what we present to them,” Brogdon said.

Though the time for construction is still years away, not expected to begin until 2015, the city is to keep the citizens informed every step of the way. But some residents said they already feel left in the dark, as City Council voted to begin the process without weighing their concerns beforehand.

“This is part of a bigger project that they aren’t letting us know about,” Tiffany Rankin said after the meeting. “Something’s been going on behind closed doors.”

That secrecy has residents on the defensive. They showed up by the dozens to the meeting at Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church.

“Do I believe they are going to tell us the truth?” Rankin mused aloud afterward. “No, but I’ll go through the motions with them anyway. It’s the only thing I can do. It’s the only way we can have a voice.”

District 8 City Councilman Andrae McGary was quick to try to pacify the angry residents.

“You are a part of this process,” he said. “This is a major decision and we are looking at what [the expansion] will look like.”

All the preliminary design projections shown depict Central Avenue continuing through Lincoln Park and curving to a degree, impacting the neighborhood and most assuredly driving more traffic, maybe even tractor trailers, through the residential area.

Rankin said she would like the city to leave the neighborhood alone and find another alternative.

“There’s got to be an option that does not mess with the integrity of the neighborhood,” she said.

Others agreed.

“Holtzclaw Avenue is clearly the best alternative to connect [Interstate] 24 to Amnicola,” said property and business owner Stephen Harper. “We don’t need all of the traffic.”

McGary urged audience members to not only voice their opinions publicly but to also fill out the provided comment cards, noting that the minutes of the meeting as well as submitted comments would be considered in the decision making process.

“Who is responsible for the restitution for the depreciation and the devaluation of our property?” asked James Smith, a Central Avenue resident. “It’s not going to be home anymore when those trucks come through.”

His questions were met with no answer.

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