Rocky Top gets grant for sidewalk and road improvements

Rocky Top will get a grant of nearly $900,000 from the state of Tennessee to make sidewalk and road improvements along Main Street in the downtown area, the city learned Friday.

The city must pay a 5 percent match for the project, on top of the grant, City Manager Michael Foster said.

In September, the City Council approved a resolution to apply for a Tennessee Department of Transportation Multimodal Access Grant of up to $1 million to pay for the upgrades.

As part of the revitalization of downtown Rocky Top, the grant will help pay for upgraded sidewalks along Main Street (U.S. 25W) between First and Fourth streets, including new curbs and gutters and more pedestrian crosswalks.

Work won’t begin until after the city puts it out for bids and chooses a contractor, Foster said, adding, “It takes a while to get it going, so it may be after the first of the year” before work gets underway.

The work is expected to come in two phases, with the second phase including sidewalk upgrades down the side streets (First to Fourth streets), as well. The grant approved last week will cover the Phase One, Foster said.

“In the first phase, we’ll be adding curb and gutters back in on U.S. 25W, along with pedestrian crossings,” he said.

“We want to draw more people into downtown, and we hope these improvements will help lead to more private redevelopment, such as new paint and windows on some of the buildings,” Foster said.

“People are coming back to downtown, thanks to attractions like the Coal Creek Miners Museum, the [Coal Creek] Smokehouse restaurant and the Splash Pad,” he said.

Rocky Top has become popular with all-terrain-vehicle riders who come into town off the nearby trails of the Windrock Off-Road Park. The city was able to get the state legislature to pass a law allowing the unlicensed vehicles to operate on certain city streets.

Over the years as TDOT has repaved Main Street, the curbs of the existing sidewalks “have been paved over, making the sidewalks less appealing to pedestrians,” Foster said.

“Putting the curbs back in will create a buffer between the road and the sidewalk on both sides of the highway,” he added. “People are more apt to use the sidewalks if there is a buffer.”

The sidewalk upgrades also are designed to make them compliant with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), Foster said.

Rocky Top applied for the same grant money last year, but did not get it. The second phase of the work would require an additional grant.

TDOT plans to repave U.S. 25 through Rocky Top during 2020, and Foster said earlier that the city was hoping the sidewalk upgrades could be timed to coordinate with that work.

“We’re also asking TDOT to narrow the traffic lanes to 11 feet from the present 12 feet to give us more room for the sidewalks,” he said.