Broadway bridge re-opens, advocates worry about homeless

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The new Broadway Viaduct as it appeared on Wednesday, mere hours from its reopening after nearly three years of construction. (Photo by J.J. Stambaugh)

If all goes well, this is the morning that commuters will finally be able to once again drive straight down Broadway and into downtown Knoxville, authorities said. 

Construction workers spent Wednesday taking care of last-minute details and making sure the new Broadway Viaduct was ready to handle the estimated 10,000-plus cars and trucks that are expected to cross the bridge each day.

Although construction workers spent the day telling curious onlookers they weren’t expecting to finish until midnight, a Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesperson announced the bridge was open shortly after sunset.

“For the first time since November 2019, the Broadway Viaduct in downtown Knoxville is now open to vehicular traffic!” said Mark Nagi in a post on Twitter. 

The bridge opened at approximately 9:40 p.m., he said, but only automobiles were being allowed through at first.

“Bicyclists and pedestrians can’t use it yet as there is still work to be finished, mainly lighting,” he explained. “That’ll be done in the Fall.”

The Broadway Viaduct was first built in 1927 to connect North Knoxville with downtown. In recent years, however, the bridge started showing signs of advanced deterioration, plus both vertical and horizontal clearances were at or below current standards.

The original four-lane bridge was 746 feet long and carried traffic over five railroad tracks. The new bridge is 888 feet long and has two 11-foot travel lanes, a center turn lane, bike lanes and sidewalks.

To build the new viaduct, Broadway was closed from the intersection of Oak Avenue, World’s Fair Park and Jackson Avenue to just north of Depot Avenue starting in late 2019. 

While many Knoxvillians were glad that nearly three years of tedious detours were coming to an end Wednesday, others were focused on the potential impacts that reopening the bridge might have on the large population of homeless men and women who have been drawn to the area.

Official from Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM), which operates the region’s emergency homeless shelter, have been reminding their guests they need to be cautious when crossing the street. 

“For almost three years, our homeless neighbors have gotten used to Broadway being closed,” said Todd Gilbert, KARM’s Chief Operating Officer. “The 400 block of Broadway has become like a cul-de-sac, and this Wednesday it quickly turns back into a busy …. road.”

Gilbert pointed out that many people experiencing homelessness have mental health issues, struggle with addiction, and are “often not as aware of their surroundings as we might think they are.”

 “We just want everyone to be safe during this transition back to a major thoroughfare through this busy area of Broadway,” he said.

Chief Clinical Services Officer Gabe Cline of the nearby Volunteer Ministry Center echoed Gilbert’s concerns.

“Our main concern with the re-opening of the bridge on Broadway is for the safety of neighbors who are in that area. We have been talking with neighbors to make sure they are aware that traffic along that section of Broadway will resume,” she said. 

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com.

Published on September 1, 2022.