The finish line is in sight for the $17 million streetscapes project that has made Cumberland Avenue a construction zone for more than two years.
The city says the project is on pace for completion in August 2017.
"This is something we started planning nine years ago. It's exciting to see it finally close to being complete," said Anne Wallace, deputy director of Knoxville's Office of Redevelopment.
For the remainder of this week, drivers can expect some traffic shifts and detours along Cumberland Avenue near the campus of the University of Tennessee. Crews are paving portions of the road through Friday afternoon. A portion of Eighteenth Street is also closed entirely until Thursday night. Full updates on traffic changes and closures are posted to the city's Cumberland Connect website.
"The goal of this project has been from the very beginning to improve safety, improve aesthetics, and to improve the economic viability of this corridor," said Anne Wallace.
More than 3,500 cars commute on Cumberland Avenue every day. Wallace says traffic flow should improve along the corridor, even with a five-block stretch going from four lanes down to three lanes. The new configuration has one lane in each direction and a center turn lane.
"What we've seen with temporary dividers is traffic is flowing a lot more consistently. With the dedicated turn lane and center medians, you don't have as many surprises that led to a lot of backups and rear-end crashes," said Wallace.
Wallace said the lane reduction also allows for wider sidewalks, landscaping buffers between pedestrians and vehicles, and a better environment for the thousands of people who walk along Cumberland Avenue.
"That's one of the key things. We wanted to shift this from being a cut-through street from downtown to West Knoxville or vice versa to a destination. We want this to be a place like Market Square or the Old City. A place you come, park your car, walk around, enjoy a game, then come back and enjoy the merchants," said Wallace.
The city will surely find out how well the configuration works in the fall of 2017 when another crop of students and 100,000 football fans converge on Cumberland Avenue.
"The road will definitely be done before the first home football game," said Wallace. "There will still be some work to do with the landscaping. Some of the trees will not be ready to harvest and relocate here until October. Then the project will be completely finished."