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Rocky Top gets $950K from state for sidewalks

Rocky Top will get an additional grant of $950,000 to go along with a previously approved nearly $900,000 grant from the state of Tennessee to make sidewalk and road improvements along Main Street in the downtown area, City Manager Michael Foster told the City Council last Thursday.

The two grants are for sidewalk repairs, pedestrian lighting and buffers along Main Street, with the earlier grant meant to pay for Phase 1 of the work, from the downtown bridge to Fourth Street, and the newer one for Phase 2, the area from Fourth Street to Lake City Middle School, Foster said.

Called multimodal grants, the funds come from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, but the city will bid both projects separately to have the work done.

During Thursday’s December council meeting, the council approved a continuing contract with Cannon & Cannon engineering for design of the projects.

Foster said he hopes to see construction begin on Phase 1 this coming year, after TDOT completes repaving of Main Street.

“We have no timetable on Phase 2 yet, since we just got the news about the grant,” Foster said Monday.

Phase 1 is still in preliminary design, he said.

The Phase 1 grant of $899,878 will require a 5-percent match by the city, Foster said. The newer grant could require either a 5-percent or 10-percent match, he said.

In September, the City Council approved a resolution to apply for the second grant.

As part of the revitalization of downtown Rocky Top, the grants will help pay for the upgraded sidewalks along Main Street (U.S. 25W), also to include new gutters and more pedestrian crosswalks.

“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 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 Phase 2 grant money last year, but did not get it.

TDOT had planned 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. But delays have stretched the paving now into 2023 at the earliest.

“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,” Foster said.