published Monday, November 5th, 2012

Chattanooga seeking feedback on Wilcox Tunnel plans


by Cliff Hightower
Motorists drive through the Wilcox Tunnel on Wilcox Boulevard in this file photo from last year. Chattanooga will hold a public hearing Nov. 15 to answer questions and receive comments on how to improve the tunnel.
Motorists drive through the Wilcox Tunnel on Wilcox Boulevard in this file photo from last year. Chattanooga will hold a public hearing Nov. 15 to answer questions and receive comments on how to improve the tunnel.
Photo by Jenna Walker.

IF YOU GO

What: Public meeting on Wilcox Tunnel project

When: 6:30 p.m. Nov. 15

Where: Eastdale Recreation Center, 1314 Moss St.

City officials will hold a public meeting next week as they think about how to improve the old Wilcox Tunnel.

"We'll be there and able to take feedback," said City Engineer Bill Payne.

City residents are invited to come learn the history of the tunnel, discuss options for improvements and ask questions.

Improving the aging and deteriorating Wilcox Tunnel has been discussed for years. Water seeps through the roof, especially in winter, and city engineers have made patchwork fixes over the years.

But the antiquated two-lane structure is dangerously narrow, and the city would like to add capacity.

One design calls for renovating the present tunnel and building a second, single-lane tunnel alongside. But Payne said the city couldn't afford the estimated $50 million cost for such a project.

"If you took the capital improvement part of the city budget, it would take two years to fund that, and you wouldn't be able to do any other projects," he said

City leaders are looking for federal dollars for the work, he said. A few years ago, the city applied for a federal stimulus grant but was not selected, he said.

In the meantime, an environmental study is under way so it will be ready if federal dollars become available. The study will look at the project's environmental impact, get community feedback and include designs.

Councilman Russell Gilbert, who represents the area, said if the environmental study is completed by spring, that could be what's needed to push federal officials to fund the construction.

"That was the missing link we needed," he said.

Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield, said the city is trying to piece together money for the project as best it can.

"It's a big project," he said. "It's an expensive project."

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