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Johnson City will present preliminary Walnut Street designs Thursday

David Floyd • Updated Dec 10, 2019 at 6:03 PM

You’ll soon have a chance to see the preliminary plans for one of Johnson City’s most-anticipated projects.

City leaders will host a public hearing from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at South Side Elementary School, 1011 Southwest Ave., about the preliminary design for the revitalization of the West Walnut Street corridor, which connects East Tennessee State University to the downtown area.

Representatives from LDA Engineering, the project consultant, will deliver a presentation at the beginning of the event. They’ll be available for questions until 8 p.m.

“We want people to comment freely and openly, whether in the aggregate or with specific properties, so that we focus in on what we’re going to ultimately design because that’s going to be a large effort,” said Johnson City Public Works Director Phil Pindzola.

People will have the opportunity to comment on the project and see how construction would impact their individual properties.

“We want this to be their opportunity to weigh in,” Pindzola said. “Do they like it, dislike it? Are there changes to be made, things for us to look at?”

Pindzola said the city is generally following the overarching goals laid out in the project’s master plan, which was approved by the City Commission in January. He said the typical cross-section of the proposed streetscape consists of two lanes, on-street parking, a two-way bike lane on the north side of the road and eight-foot sidewalks on either side.

Pindzola said all utilities will be underground, the city will change signage along the roadway, speed humps will be installed at intersections and the city will move the street slightly to keep traffic speeds low. Pindzola said the ideal speed along West Walnut Street would be a maximum of about 20 to 25 mph.

The designs also involve turning Lynn Street into a one-way roadway moving eastward and extending the double left-turn movements on University Parkway at State of Franklin Road up to Maple Street. A median would be installed to prevent left turns, allowing the city to eliminate the traffic signal at West Walnut Street.

The city is also looking on a long-term basis at providing more parking to accommodate further development along the corridor.

Pindzola said water and sewer lines around West Walnut Street, which are more than 100 years old, will have to be replaced, and the road is in poor condition and will be need to be redone. The city is also proposing a stormwater management plan that would help maximize development along the corridor.

“We’ve had issues of flooding, whether water is flowing through the Tree Streets into this basin area trying to get over to Brush Creek, or we’re getting flooding within the properties that would inhibit development,” he said.

The city’s project focuses on the area around West Walnut Street bound by State of Franklin Road, Buffalo Street, University Parkway and Lynn Street.

According to prior Johnson City Press reporting, the Johnson City Commission in November 2017 contracted Kimley-Horn consultants, a planning and design firm, to gather feedback and develop a long-term plan for West Walnut Street.

The consultant’s master plan, which was unveiled in May 2018, proposed creating green spaces, a stormwater management plan and a new streetscape with bike lanes. After tweaks by city staff, the City Commission approved this roadmap for the project in January, which the city has used to guide the priorities of the project as it gets closer to construction.

In August, commissioners reviewed a concept plan for the corridor. City Manager Pete Peterson said at the time that the city wants West Walnut Street to feel like Main Street.

“Buildings close to the road, slower traffic, a lot of people walking and creating a sense of community,” he said. “We envision a lot of students out of the university coming down the Walnut Street corridor for shopping and barber shops, laundromats, dining to create more of a neighborhood feel that stretches right on into the existing downtown core area.”

Pindzola said the hearing on Thursday will essentially be the last, large public input session before the city puts the project out to bid, which he hopes will happen next August or so.

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