KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – As enrollment at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville continues increase, there is now renewed momentum around a long-discussed proposal to build a pedestrian bridge connecting the campus with the South Knoxville waterfront.
The possibility of a pedestrian bridge was first raised in the city government’s 2006 South Waterfront Vision Plan, a 20-year strategy to revitalize a 750-acre area fronting 3 miles of Tennessee River shoreline. Past efforts to secure grant funding for the project have been unsuccessful, including an application for federal funding by the city government in 2015.
The project would connect the University of Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena with an 18-mile downtown greenway system and the 45-mile Urban Wilderness Trail system in South Knoxville.
At the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees most recent meeting, planners discussed the project as a way to meet the ever-expanding need for student parking, housing and other facilities. UT System President Randy Boyd and other university officials have met with state lawmakers and Gov. Bill Lee for preliminary discussions.
“The bridge to the south waterfront is something that has been discussed since 2006. We are grateful to have alignment with city and state leaders, but we are in the early stages of exploratory discussion and planning. Going to the Board of Trustees last week was a first step in planning. As part of the early discussions, both President Boyd and Chancellor Plowman’s Chief of Staff met with Governor Lee and members of the Knox County delegation earlier this week.”Tyra Haag, UT-Knoxville Director of News & Information
The university enrolled almost 6,000 first-time students in Fall 2021, the largest freshman class in its history. First-time students are required to live on campus for their first year, which limits on-campus bed availability for continuing students.
Historically, nearly 2,300 continuing students live on campus. According to enrollment projections shared in the latest board of trustees meeting, fewer than 1,000 continuing students would be able live on campus for Fall 2022.
City of Knoxville Chief Operating Officer David Brace said the renewed interest is the result of several factors including the growth of the South Waterfront, shared interest among state and local leaders as well as federal infrastructure dollars becoming available again.
“Since 2006, the South Waterfront has continued to grow, with more than $61 million in public improvements leveraging over $400 million in private dollars. As investment and interest in the South Waterfront trend down river, the City sees tremendous benefit in exploring new infrastructure funding opportunities that could help realize this bicycle and pedestrian connection.”Deputy to the Mayor David Brace, Knoxville Chief Operating Officer
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The UT Board of Trustees agreed to expand the official campus boundaries by adding a narrow swath of land on the south bank of the Tennessee River along Scottish Pike and W. Blount Avenue. Documents presented to the board describe the area as largely made up now of underutilized buildings and vacant industrial sites.
While the boundary extension doesn’t mean the plan will become a reality or that the university would even acquire the south waterfront property, it clears the way for further discussions with state and local leaders on the project.