The Tennessee Department of Transportation’s $8.7 million construction project on Interstate 24 near downtown Nashville  will no doubt provide much-needed repairs for the 1961-era bridges that cross over Woodland and Main streets.
But many East Nashville business owners fear a stark reality: For 13 weekends beginning Friday, TDOT officials plan to close I-24 in both directions from the I-24/I-65 split north of downtown to the I-24/I-40 split east of downtown. That stretch includes the key access points to and from many neighborhoods to the east of the Cumberland River.
And one of the weekends the interstate is slated for closure is perhaps East Nashville’s busiest –– the weekend of Saturday, Aug. 11, when the annual Tomato Arts Festival at the 5Points district is expected to draw tens of thousands.
“As businesses, we’re worried that the people who come in from outside of East Nashville are going to have a lot of trouble getting in,” said Tom Hadley, president of the Historic East Nashville Merchant’s Association, who operates East Side Smiles, a dental office on Main Street.
“If you start thinking about it, what would be the business that people would come in from outside of the zip code on the weekend?” Hadley said. “That’s our restaurants, and our restaurants are one of the biggest draws. Some of them depend on out-of-the-area business.”
A public meeting to address concerns and explain East Nashville detours is set for 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 18 at the East Park Community Center. TDOT officials, area Metro Council members, and representatives of the merchant’s association and Rediscover East! are among those expected to attend.
“The concern is access to East Nashville during the course of the bridge repairs, and how both residents, visitors and businesses will be able to get through the process as best as possible,” said District 6 Councilman Peter Westerholm, who represents some of the most affected East Nashville neighborhoods.
“There’s going to be a lot of frustration and a lot of congestion at a lot of places,” he said. “We just want to make sure everyone is trying to talk about this, and hopefully use it as an opportunity to highlight and promote East Nashville to say, ‘We are still open for business.’ ”
After construction kicks off Friday evening, the stretch of Interstate 24 is slated to close for 13 weekends (weather permitting) until the project is complete on Aug. 31. TDOT has designated four weekends during that span when the interstate won’t be closed: April 27-29 for the County Music Marathon; May 25-28 for Memorial Day weekend; June 7-10 for the CMA Music Festival; and June 22-24 for a concert at LP Field.
This summer, Hadley sees only a few viable entrances to East Nashville during weekends when the interstate is closed: Detour off the Second Avenue interstate exit, navigate through downtown and cross the Gateway Bridge onto Shelby Street; exit onto Trinity Lane from Interstate 24; or enter East Nashville via Briley Parkway and Ellington Parkway.
TDOT spokeswoman Deanna Lambert said the department is aware of East Nashvillians’ wariness of the project. “Some of the businesses are concerned about business being lost over the summer,” she said.
Lambert said Wednesday’s meeting designed to explain the project to the community and “work with them to alleviate some of their fears.” She said TDOT has already agreed to place additional signs to indicate street detours to and from East Nashville.
Though the Interstate 24 stretch near downtown will be closed at most points, TDOT has created a map to highlight a few on ramps that are accessible. The map [which can be viewed here ] references three routes:
• Motorists traveling on Shelby Avenue to I-24West will turn unto South Fifth Street and will continue on Spring Street to the I-24W on ramp. The I-24 East on-ramp will remain open.
• Motorists traveling on Jefferson Street and North 1st Street to I-24 East will take North 1st Street, and then turn left onto Woodland Street to the I-24 East on-ramp. The I-24 West on-ramp will remain open.
• Shelby St. will remain open and provide access across the Cumberland River, only the Shelby St. on-ramps to I-24 West will be closed.
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