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MINUTES (4-29-00)

HISTORY OF FOREST HEIGHTS BRIDGE

 

 

 

The following is an e-mail I received from Charles L. Cleland concerning the history of tearing down the Forest Heights Bridge.  If anyone has anymore information they would like to share then e-mail me. Also check out the Knoxville News Sentinel article.

 

1)  You are correct in pointing out that some vocal Forest Heights residents
did not want the bridge over the interstate to be built.  However, little has
been said about the existence of that road serving the Lonas Drive Area long
before the interstate was built.  The bridge was simply a replacement for the
service road that had long been in service.

2)  You mention the residents being concerned about the increase in traffic
through Forest Heights.  I certainly concur that its effect on the
neighborhood should be a concern of theirs, however, the increase in the
traffic is also an indication of the need for improved means of
transportation between the two sides of the interstate.  Alternatives need to
be considered.

3) At the time of the discussion about the bridge before it got to City
Council there was a suggestion that a reoriented bridge with a road around
the neighborhood be built that would lead directly to Mohican at Sutherland
Avenue.  Access to Kingston Pike would then be reasonably direct and by means
of an intersection which already had a light.  In addition the proposed route
of such a road would have reduced the steepness of the climb and descent over
the ridge.  There was also very little development in the land that would
have been needed for such a road.  The TDOT was very agreeable to such a
change in bridge orientation

4)  The proposal for the road around the neighborhood was dismissed out of
hand.  The contention was that such a road would still expose the
neighborhood to increased crime because of the ease of access.  There was
also the suggestion that such a road would further separate the Forest
Heights Neighborhood from their friends in the Westwood neighborhood.  The
fact of the existence of a cemetery between the two neighborhoods was
conveniently ignored.

5)  Part of the discussion and the presentation before Council dealt with the
increase in traffic that would occur on Northshore and Hollywood if the
bridge were not replaced.  That, too, was dismissed as of no consequence so
long as the Forest Heights neighborhood got what it wanted.  You have
recently heard about the concerns of the Westwood residents and those on
Hollywood Drive about such increases.  This point was also made in the
presentation before City Council but they did not seem to be impressed that
it could become a real problem.  

6) The leadership of the Westwood Community at the time of these discussions
was very supportive of the Forest Heights position relative to the bridge.  
There has been a change in leadership and also a questioning of the wisdom of
not replacing the bridge.  The earlier leaders did not perceive the impact
that the present leaders are experiencing and anticipating.

7)  The personnel of the local fire station were asked whether or not the
removal of the bridge would likely influence their response time to a fire in
the Forest Heights area.  There was no question but that the response time
would be increased.  Similarly police officers and ambulance service
personnel were asked the same question.  They, too, were confident that any
access removal would likely increase response time to emergencies.

8)  Business owners in the Kingston Pike area were contacted about their
feelings about the removal of the bridge.  Without exception, they felt the
existence of the bridge provided relatively easy access to their places of
business and so supported the replacement idea.

9)  Approximately 1000 signatures were obtained from the Lonas Drive Area
residents.  In addition to these, a substantial number of signatures were
obtained from voters at the Bearden Elementary School. This precinct includes
both the forest Heights and Westwood neighborhoods.  These petitions were
also made available to members of City Council but they declined to examine
them.

10)  Residents of Hollywood Drive were apparently neither considered nor
consulted about the removal of the bridge and its possible impact on them.  
At the time most of the residents were renters who didn't seem to count in
the estimation of the Forest Heights neighborhood.  It should be noted that
the Hollywood area south of the interstate is included in the Forest Heights
Small Area delimited by City Council.

11)  Pond Gap School personnel were very much concerned about the increase in
traffic that would be generated by removal of  Forest Heights bridge.  Their
feeling was that the traffic on Papermill and Hollywood was already a
problem, particularly for those children who walked south on Hollywood
because they had to cross that street to get to school and back home.

12)  Consistent with the lack of concern for the renters on Hollywood was the
lack of concern for apartment dwellers in the Forest Heights community
proper.  There was substantial support for replacement of the bridge by the
apartment managers.  They had observed the difficulty residents had in
getting over the Forest Heights hill in inclement weather.  The bridge over
the interstate provided the only realistic means of getting to and from
school and work.  Right now when there is snow and/or ice, that road is
sanded and salted because it is a connector road.  When it becomes just
another neighborhood street, such prompt attention is likely to falter.

13)  Some admiration has to be given to the organizational skills of the
leaders and the strong commitment of the residents to the cause as defined by
those leaders.  Nic Arning in particular needs to be identified because he
was so politically astute.  He knew the kind of a campaign that would be
necessary to win the battle before the formal hearing at City Council and he
had the willing residents who would respond to that leadership.  One of the
accomplishments was to define the problem in black and white terms.  There
was no middle ground and no opportunity to compromise.  The only solution was
removal of the bridge.  A partial response to this was strong social pressure
being brought on those in the neighborhood who either favored replacement of
the bridge or were indifferent to the issue.

14)  The residents north of the interstate were naive in thinking that the
process was one of a reasoned approach to whatever problems the community
faced.  Most particularly we made the assumption that the facts of the matter
would be heard and considered and a decision based on what was presented at
the public hearing.  It soon became clear that the Council members were not
very interested in the presentations and there were virtually no questions
asked for clarification of anything.  Obviously the decision had been reached
long before the public hearing was held.  We learned something from the
experience which is that Council members must be so inundated with contacts
of various sorts that they become tired of hearing about the matter and will
follow the easy road to satisfy those who are most strident.  Planning and
long term development may be useful concepts that are frequently utilized but
there are occasions when they get tossed to the wind.  An additional effect
of this strong neighborhood activity was that Council did not want to subject
itself to this kind of barrage again and so refuses to reconsider the matter
in any way.

15)  Part of the presentation at the public hearing included letters from the
chiefs of the Fire and Police Departments which asserted that removal of the
bridge would have no effect on the response times in case of emergencies.  
This departure from what we had learned from the local officials was very
startling.  Equally mystifying was the lack of any comment from the Kingston
Pike merchants.  The pattern suggests that some sort of pressure either in
the form of bribes, political promises or threats must have been brought into
play but there is no direct evidence of this.

16)  TDOT had no official position on the matter of the bridge but there were
some staff members found it hard to believe that a bridge that carried as
much traffic as this one would be removed from the transportation system.  In
short the decision was a mistake.

17)  The private position of the TDOT might be seen in relation to the
abortive attempt to have the bridge closed immediately following the decision
by Council even though a specific timetable had not been arrived at for the
interstate construction in that area. Because a street on the south side of
the interstate was actually located on the state right-of-way, any barrier
used to close the bridge without also closing that road would have to be on
the right-of-way.  It is my understanding that a request was made for such a
barrier placement and that it was denied by TDOT.

18)  At the time of the original discussion of the bridge removal, some
residents of the Sequoyah Hills area were questioned about their feeling
concerning replacement of the bridge.  While some indicated that it was of no
concern to them, a substantial number thought that removal of the bridge
would be a serious inconvenience.  That is the most convenient route for
residents to get to the interstate going westbound. Since the Racquet Club
has a number of residents in Sequoyah Hills and the Club is located in the
Lonas Drive area,  the time and expense of maintaining active use of the club
would certainly increase.

19)  Recently a member of the Lonas Drive Community Association Board of
Directors encountered Nic Arning on the street.  Included in the conversation
was a comment reportedly made by Arning that he did not understand why some
Forest Heights neighborhood residents are blaming him for the reduction in
the ease of accessing the interstate which the bridge removal will cause.
There is today some evidence of the lack of unanimity in that neighborhood
concerning the need for the bridge.

    Speaking as a sociologist, my perspective is and was that mechanisms for
keeping in touch with fellow citizens and groups should be maintained.  The
interstate is like a river that separates friends and neighborhoods and every
effort should be made to minimize the effects of such separation.  The
absence of the bridge will certainly make it less convenient to visit friends
on opposite sides of the interstate.

    One last comment:  The experience of  the Cedar Bluff interchange
compared with the Walker Springs interchange shows what a difference the
availability of alternatives can make in permitting local traffic to get from
one side to the other.  At Cedar Bluff all traffic has to go through the
interchange whether they have any interest in getting on or off the
interstate.  Congestion is the result.  At Walker Springs, while there may be
some negotiation of one-way streets, local traffic does not all have to
channel through a single access.  Very little congestion can be found in this
area.  The bridge is important to the whole community.

    I hope this proves useful in writing your article.

Sincerely,

Charles L. Cleland