What started as a comprehensive Downtown drainage study in 2008 has evolved into a multiple phase redevelopment effort for Johnson City. Several capital improvement projects over recent years, including the construction of Founders Park and King Commons, have alleviated flooding issues, created beautiful and useable green space, and promoted economic redevelopment in and around the Downtown District.
Despite the current COVID-19 crisis, this redevelopment is continuing with the latest phase, the West Walnut Street Streetscape project. West Walnut Street is a commercial corridor in the “Tree Streets” neighborhood, between Downtown and the East Tennessee State University campus. LDA has been working with Johnson City staff to provide engineering and design services for the project.
The West Walnut Street project extends from University Parkway eastward to Buffalo Street and includes Ashe Street and all connecting side streets. The streetscape component of the project creates a corridor that is more accommodating to pedestrians and bicyclists, adds business and economic appeal, and will aid in continuing the strong pattern of redevelopment experienced in the Downtown District. The many improvements being proposed include street trees and plantings, roadway and pedestrian lighting, a dedicated 10’ bicycle path with raised median, wider sidewalks, relocation of all overhead utilities to underground, raised intersections and crosswalks, decorative pavers, and on-street parallel parking spaces.
One important aspect of the project, which may not be as apparent as some of the aesthetic improvements mentioned above, is the implementation of new storm water management and drainage facilities. This effort will help to address flooding concerns in the area by providing more capacity to store and convey storm water from the roadway and surrounding properties. Several design options are currently being evaluated including construction of storm water detention areas as green space and installation of new culverts under the Norfolk Southern Railroad mainline that will connect to Brush Creek.
In addition to moving the overhead utilities underground, much of the aging water and sanitary sewer infrastructure within the project limits will be replaced, and in some cases will be rerouted for more efficient systems. One-hundred-year-old vitrified clay sewer and cast-iron water pipes will be removed and upgraded to PVC sewer lines and ductile iron water piping. This will ensure at least another 100 years of service under the new West Walnut Street corridor.
With all the financial impacts resulting from the current economic slow-down, it is encouraging to know that municipalities are moving ahead with projects that benefit their communities. Johnson City and the West Walnut Street project are shining examples of our willingness and desire to get back to business and provide continuity from the pre-COVID-19 days.
Jason Elliott, P.E., CPESC, is a Senior Project Manager at LDA Engineering. He has over 22 years of experience in transportation and civil engineering, most of which has been in the private sector as a consultant or construction manager. Jason is also a veteran of the armed forces, having served five years active duty as a U.S. Navy Seabee.