Jackson Avenue Ramps FAQs

Redevelopment Director

Dawn Michelle Foster
(865) 215-2607

400 Main St., Room 655
Knoxville, TN 37902

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Updated Aug. 6, 2019


By October 2019, a team led by Bell & Associates Construction will begin demolishing and replacing the Jackson Avenue ramps connecting to Gay Street – an $8.2 million overall project, the largest single piece in a series of major upgrades in the area.

But the ramps will close sometime in September, as KUB begins electrical upgrades and the contractor wraps up its pre-construction work.

The demolition and reconstruction portion of the work is $6.5 million, and it is scheduled to be completed in one year (by fall 2020). Earlier costs included design work and right-of-way acquisition.

A public meeting to update stakeholders with the latest information was held Monday evening, Aug. 5, 2019, at Jackson Terminal, 213 W. Jackson Ave. More than 50 stakeholders attended.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about the Jackson Avenue ramps replacement project.

What's happening, and why?

During the demolition and construction, Jackson Avenue will be closed in the Old City near where Gay Street passes overhead. The 100-year-old ramps are structurally deficient. If not replaced, the ramps will continue to deteriorate.

The Jackson Avenue ramps were built in 1919-1920 as a structural component of the original Gay Street Viaduct that spanned the Southern Railway rail yard. The only major repair work on the ramps since their construction was done in 2008-09, when the east ramp at Jackson Avenue was closed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation after a routine inspection revealed an issue with a beam at the west abutment.

The current plan is for the contractor to begin demolition on the west-side ramp. But soon afterward, crews will start taking down the east-side ramp. In order to finish the project as quickly as possible, work will be underway simultaneously on both ramps.

During the project, access will be maintained to area businesses and to the City’s parking lot on West Jackson Avenue. But motorists wishing to park in the lot should turn onto West Jackson from Broadway. There will be no through traffic to the West Jackson lot from Central Street / East Jackson.

However, east-west pedestrian access through the construction zone will be maintained during the project.

To access Gay Street from Jackson, or vice versa, pedestrians should use a metal staircase at the southern end of the Gay Street Viaduct, across from the Emporium Center.

The Central Business Improvement District recently enhanced the staircase with artwork and additional lighting.

Aren’t the Emporium and other buildings near Gay and Jackson physically connected to the ramps? 

Yes. That’s why companies with expertise in replacement of bridges – notably, historic bridges – were required to do the work.

The demolition will be done slowly and carefully. Literally, a piece of hydraulic equipment will be used to saw apart the bridge from the sides of the buildings. That’s the first step in the demolition. 

Don’t expect any dramatic implosions at any point: Because of the close proximity to neighboring buildings, the old ramps will be taken down piece by piece.

When will the work be done? Will there be noise and dust?

Normal work hours will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. If work is to be done on a weekend, City officials will coordinate around scheduled events in the neighborhood as much as possible. Look for notifications on the City Blog: www.knoxvilletn.gov/cityblog. 

Both the City and the project contract crews recognize that the Old City and surrounding area is both a popular entertainment and dining destination, as well as home to hundreds of residents. Containing noise within designated hours and limiting dust are priorities. The specialized equipment being used, along with routine spraying down with water of the work site, is expected to control dust as much as possible.

What incentives are in place for the project to be finished on time?

The City can assess $1,000 a day as liquidated damages if the contract team doesn’t hit “substantial completion” after 365 calendar days.

What will the new bridge look like?

The safe, modern bridge will look much like the existing historic bridge. See the accompanying photo.

Will this Jackson Avenue ramps replacement overlap with the state’s plans to rebuild the nearby Broadway Viaduct over the rail lines?

Yes. The Tennessee Department of Transportation is planning to tear down and rebuild the bridge spanning the tracks – a $30 million-plus project. That work may begin later this year.

Once the state project gets underway, it will create a much larger work zone, with separate crews working nearly side by side on two major infrastructure projects. But much of the traffic on Jackson won’t be affected by the Broadway work, or vice versa.

That’s because Jackson carries mostly local traffic, while Broadway (U.S. 441) is a major traffic artery for people traveling north-south into and out of downtown (and on to further destinations – southbound across the Tennessee River, or northbound to North Knoxville, Fountain City, Halls and eventually Norris).

Local commuters will be able to tailor their route to access parking and businesses in the Old City. For example, to access the City parking lot on West Jackson, drivers from downtown would head north on Henley/Broadway, then turn right onto West Jackson, before encountering the state construction zone on Broadway. Motorists heading south on Broadway could detour onto Central Street to Summit Hill Drive to Henley Street/Broadway to access West Jackson and the City’s public parking lot.

To access a business on Central Street or East Jackson, motorists would access the Old City from Summit Hill Drive, Central or East Jackson – realizing there is no cut-through from Broadway using West Jackson.

Through-traffic motorists on Broadway wishing to reroute around the Broadway Viaduct work should follow the state’s recommended detour routes and signs. 

What about the historic bricks in the Jackson Avenue ramps?

Many people ask about the red cobblestone-like bricks. Good news: The bricks will be reused on the ramps!

In fact, there are additional areas of brick at the ends of the ramps that are currently covered by asphalt. The submerged bricks will be removed, cleaned and reused.

Who’s funding the ramp project?

The cost is being split three ways – between the federal government, the state of Tennessee and the City. The biggest contributor is the federal government. The City's investment is about $270,000.

Has the City made other major investments recently in the Old City near the Jackson Avenue ramps?

More than $18 million has been invested in this section of downtown/the Old City, but close to half of that total – a little more than $8 million – is the Jackson ramps project.

Other major investments include:

• The 100 block of Gay Street – about $4.5 million;
• Jackson Avenue East and West streetscape projects – $2.1 million;
• Purchase of the McClung Warehouses site – $1.45 million;
• Purchase of the Old City Jackson Avenue parking lot – $1.3 million;
• Purchase on an additional, adjoining property in the Jackson Avenue redevelopment area – $410,000; 
• Streetscape project, 200 block of North Central Street – $235,000; and
• EPA-funded (with a City match) remediation of contaminants at the former McClung warehouses site – $180,000.

What does all this mean for redevelopment of the former McClung Warehouses site?

The City has long viewed the West Jackson tract as prime for mixed-use redevelopment. What’s unusual is that, right now, the property is owned by the City. Motivated by blight-abatement and public-safety concerns, the City purchased most of the McClung Warehouses site in 2013 from a bankruptcy trustee.

However, the presence of environmental contaminants (concentration of heavy metals in the soil, elevated soil gas and some asbestos-containing material) has been a roadblock in bringing this property quickly back into reuse. 

The Environmental Protection Agency has provided a $150,000 grant for the five-acre former industrial site. The City contributed a 20 percent match ($30,000). The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has partnered with the City and EPA on the cleanups. The City has completed the cleanup efforts as part of the grant process.

In addition, the state’s replacement of the Broadway Viaduct will require use of some of the McClung Warehouses property through temporary construction easements for an access road.

The City intends to issue an RFP for the redevelopment of the McClung Warehouses site once the new Jackson Avenue ramps are in place and TDOT’s Broadway Viaduct work is completed.  

When the McClung Warehouses site is ultimately redeveloped, the goal is that the one-time blighted, abandoned property will be transformed into a thriving mixed-use development.