At long, long last, there’s some good news about the Franklin Corridor. Five years ago, Metro’s Planning Commission and Public Works Department proposed building a seven-lane road through the area south of Broadway along Franklin Street. This arterial would connect a new bridge over the Cumberland with a new viaduct over the Gulch south of Cummins Station. The Demonbreun viaduct would be demolished.
Since then Corridor critics have been fighting a rearguard action to make the roadway an urban street friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists as well as cars, and to preserve the Demonbreun viaduct. These critics have claimed that the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s traffic projections, used by Public Works to justify the Corridor, are bloated. They’ve warned that without very careful designing, such a wide road will create a Berlin Wall between downtown and future development to the south. They’ve cautioned that closing the Demonbreun viaduct will sever the most direct route between Music Row and the new Frist Visual Arts Center, the Arena, and the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Last Monday the critics saw light at the end of the Corridor. The illumination was supplied by Mayor Bredesen, who told the Scene that he was not going to fund Metro’s share of the new viaduct over the Gulch. ”I think it’s probable that [the new viaduct] will never be built,“ Bredesen said. ”I told Marlin Keel, [the director of Public Works], to come up with an alternative.“ The most obvious alternative is to repair or replace the Demonbreun viaduct.
The Mayor also vowed that he will carefully monitor the design details of the part of the Corridor that will be constructed through SoBro. ”Our position is that we will work with TDOT“ to make sure that the road is a boulevard, not a highway. ”And by that I don’t mean just asking TDOT if they might consider our suggestions for the design,“ Bredesen said. ”I mean really pushing hard.“
One battering ram Bredesen can use to make a boulevard is his refusal to put a new Gulch viaduct in the Metro budget. Without the new viaduct, the road would no longer be a thruway. And if it’s not a thruway, the road would be less of a magnet for cars speeding through SoBro. Fewer cars make TDOT’s high traffic projections even more unlikely and give the boulevard concept a fighting chance.
The idea to construct a boulevard that stops before it reaches the Gulch first crystallized in The Plan for SoBro. This plan, published by the Scene in 1997, was the result of a public design workshop sponsored by the Scene and underwritten by the Frist Foundation and the Lifeworks Foundation.
Bredesen already has a shopping list of design elements that he’d like to see in place on the boulevard. In 1997, the mayor asked members of the design team that revised the Subarea 9 Plan for downtown to develop guidelines that would turn the highway into a boulevard. The team, led by architect Gary Everton, came up with 13 ”critical design elements“ for a Franklin Boulevard and presented them to Public Works. The department agreed to 11 of the elements, and forwarded them to TDOT.
But Bredesen will need the skills of a Magellan to navigate these ”critical elements“ through the traffic engineering maze of TDOT. The current plan for the Corridor, unveiled by TDOT and consultants with Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon at a public meeting on January 21, virtually ignores Bredesen’s boulevard philosophy. Public Works may have renamed the Corridor the ”Gateway Boulevard,“ but the TDOT plan shows the same old highway.
The most horrifying design element in TDOT’s Corridor plan is the alignment of the proposed viaduct over the Gulch. The roadway swoops around the south end of Cummins Station, travels north through the Gulch, and thenby means of a giant S-curvemerges with Demonbreun near 13th Ave. The thing looks more like an interstate off-ramp than a ”Gateway Boulevard.“
TDOT is supervising the Corridor’s construction because the department is administering most of the funding. The project is to be financed with 80 percent federal funds, funneled through TDOT, matched by 20 percent Metro money. But TDOT officials are careful to point out that the road is a Metro project.
That means, according to Ted Kniazewycz, a bridge engineer with Public Works, that the design shown in the TDOT plan can and will change. Kniazewycz says his department intends to implement all but two of the ”critical elements“ the design team called for, including on-street parallel parking and a median whose minimum width will accommodate a single row of trees.
Bredesen’s prediction that the Gulch will not be bridged by the road-from-hell after he leaves office seems to have a better than 50 percent chance of realization. Only one of the three announced candidates for mayor, Jay West, says he supports the Corridor as planned.
In an August 1997 column in the Tennessean, former mayor Richard Fulton, the candidate with the biggest war chest for the 1999 race, described the Corridor as the ”Franklin-stein Monster“ and called for a reevaluation of the project.
Mayoral candidate Bill Purcell also has Corridor concerns. ”Based on the plans I’ve seen up until now, it seems that when we get done we’ll have a thruway through the middle of the city,“ he says. ”This is not what we need at a time when we are trying to revitalize the area south of Broadway. And if we lose the (current) Demonbreun viaduct, we’ll be cutting off what could be the front door to the Frist Visual Arts Center.“
In claiming that the Franklin Corridor will ultimately look a lot different, and a lot better, than the plans presented by TDOT last week, Kniazewycz explains that design details will not be worked out until this summer. But he admits that there will be no more public presentations of the Corridor plan. That means we must trust TDOT and Metro Public Works to do something that they have not done in recent memory: build an honest-to-God urban street from scratch. We can only rely on Mayor Bredesen, and his successor, to make it so.
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