published Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Bessie Smith Cultural Center shuttle eyed


by Cliff Hightower
The CARTA shuttle travels down Broad Street.
The CARTA shuttle travels down Broad Street.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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A dream to one day have a shuttle service that runs past the Bessie Smith Cultural Center is in the minds of those who could make it happen.

But there are several roadblocks in the way: logistics, time and money.

Chattanooga's electric shuttles now run just a few blocks away from the center on M.L. King Boulevard; however, the shuttles can't be conveniently diverted from their current path, Tom Dugan, executive director for the Chattanooga Area Regional Transit Authority, said.

"It's not as easy as it sounds to go a couple of blocks," he said.

The subject of adding the Bessie Smith Cultural Center to the existing shuttle route came up during a recent City Council budget hearing. Bessie Smith officials mentioned that adding the route would increase business to the facility, a local museum for black history.

Irvin Overton, chairman of the board of directors for the cultural center, said Wednesday museum attendance would go up "even if we could get [the shuttle] within a block."

"People might get off and say, 'Let's see that,'" he said.

There is no hard proof that people would visit the center if the shuttle stopped there, Overton acknowledged. The shuttle goes to other tourist attractions in the city and the Bessie Smith Cultural Center officials want to be a part.

"How much of a crapshoot is this?" he asked. "I really don't know."

Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said she agrees the shuttle service should run to Bessie Smith, but she knows there could be constraints within CARTA's budget.

Ladd said the city wouldn't front the project.

"It's not anything I would see increasing the city budget to do," she said.

To add Bessie Smith to the route, Dugan said the runtime for each shuttle's route would need to be extended by five to 10 minutes, which would increase wear and tear on the vehicles. To keep the shuttle service running smoothly, two to three new shuttles would be needed. They cost around $200,000 each, he said.

Another problem is how to get the shuttle to Bessie Smith, then loop around back to its original route, he said. The best option would be to add another route running east to west and serving the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Staybridge Suites.

CARTA receives requests frequently for service, Dugan said. Some would like the shuttle to come to Main Street to serve the Southside area; others want shuttle service to come down Market Street.

Adding a route to Bessie Smith is almost like the "chicken and the egg" analogy, he said.

"I don't know how many people would go to Bessie Smith," he said. "But I do agree that more people would come."

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