What will the 28th Avenue Connector mean for north Nashville?

Sunday, September 19, 2010 at 9:00pm

West of downtown, three roads tell three stories of three different Nashvilles.

West End is the preferred connector of wealth and privilege, rolling past the manicured lawn of Centennial Park and the hallowed halls of Vanderbilt University before — in an oh-so-Nashville way — changing names and plunging into the monied hills of Belle Meade, passing tony private schools and well-heeled houses of worship.

Farther north, Jefferson Street makes its own way. Once heralded as a great hub of black commerce in pre-integration Nashville, it was one of the centers of the civil rights movement here. It has storied universities of its own in Fisk, Tennessee State and Meharry Medical College. The merchants will tell you that the area is on its way back to the glory days, when blues clubs and juke joints rocked at night and black-owned businesses brought Nashville’s African-American community middle-class success during the day.

Between them is Charlotte Avenue, that utilitarian boulevard. It’s a road upon which anything one might need — and that definition is left purposefully broad — can be found most any time of day. Not as charming or historic as the two more celebrated thoroughfares, it nonetheless stubbornly serves its own purpose.

The three streets can almost be treated as different cities. No doubt, each has a distinct arc in the great Nashville story. But their fates will be tied together thanks to a project some 20 years in the making. At long last, as part of the mayor’s capital budget, the city has set aside money to complete the 28th Avenue Connector.

Road economics

For three roads so geographically close to grow and change in such individual ways over the last half-century seems incongruous.

Blame another road: Interstate 40 and its appendage, 440. They are the Big Evil and Little Evil of the west side — especially for Jefferson Street. When the transportation planners laid out Ike’s grand plan for transportation through Tennessee, they dropped overpasses that divided the once-bustling economic engine.

Trisected by the interstates, those three pikes developed those separate identities — deserved or not — in the ensuing decades, perhaps because they’re so difficult to cross-navigate. The most obvious way to get to Jefferson Street is to take 28th Avenue. The most obvious way to get to 28th Avenue is not so obvious.

To get from West End to 28th, for example, one would drive north on 31st Avenue past Centennial Park’s western edge, turn right onto Park Plaza, turn left on 25th, turn left on Charlotte and then right on 28th. It’s not a far drive — less than a mile from point-to-point — but not at all direct.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to cut out Park Plaza — and two traffic lights — by driving over the CSX tracks, connecting with a stub of 28th that’s on the south side of Charlotte? It cuts the distance by 80 percent and creates a direct route from Vanderbilt to Tennessee State University.

“From Centennial Park to Hadley Park,” Mayor Karl Dean says. “What it does is makes West End accessible to Jefferson Street.”

Along with simply resolving a traffic snarl, Dean touts the economic importance of the project: Both Jefferson and West End merchants benefit from a more direct thoroughfare. Easier access means more consumers. It would also make it easier to reach West End from Interstate 40 — via the 28th Avenue exit — and by taking the neighborhood streets out of the equation, traffic can move more easily.

“It will ease the traffic flow through there,” said Metro Councilwoman Edith Langster, who represents the area.

It also creates an academic thoroughfare: The logical extension of the new road would link Belmont and Lipscomb universities with Vanderbilt with Fisk with Meharry with TSU, which is of logistical importance as Nashville’s various universities have created very real partnerships — medical links between
Meharry and Vanderbilt, ROTC links between Belmont and TSU, research agreements between Fisk and Vanderbilt.

And easier access from the interstate at 28th means more consumer spending on Jefferson Street.

“What I think is going to happen is increased prosperity on Jefferson Street,” Dean said.

Business owners can’t disagree. After making his own movement west — bringing a location of his eponymous soul food restaurant to Green Hills — David Swett Sr. said the connector has wide support among north Nashville businesses.

Break from the past

That prosperity has been missing since dozens of homes and businesses gave way to the interstate in the 1960s.

That’s the point when everything changed, according to the Jefferson United Merchants Partnership. People left their homes. Many moved into housing projects, which necessarily led to larger housing projects; businesses shuttered long-time locations and never returned. But the partnership hopes that changes, too.

“We want to be sure that between Rosa Parks [Boulevard] and 28th Avenue receives some development and gives [motorists] a place to come after the connector is open and not just drive by,” Sharon Hurt, the partnership’s executive director, said. “I’d hate to have these great projects and see some of the [unsightly buildings].”

After the interstate tore the neighborhood in half, Jefferson Street, the city’s soul, became a shadow of itself. It was a complicated time, and there were no heroes, and any villains who carelessly divided Nashville’s most prosperous black district are long gone.

But Dean says the connector can right a wrong.

“I learned about the connector before I became mayor. We’ve talked about it and talked about it, and now it’s time to do it,” he said.

Indeed, the project that’s been tossed around for years was included in the mayor’s original capital spending plan in April. Like the rest of that proposal, it was put on hold after the May flood. But the estimated $20 million road project made the final cut during Dean’s weeklong roll-out of the revamped spending plan last week, although it failed to merit an on-site news conference like the Hickory Hollow Mall reimagining or the new park at the fairgrounds site.

Nonetheless, Dean understands the powerful symbol the connector could be.

“It reconnects us,” he said. “We’re one city. We need to see each other.” 

16 Comments on this post:

By: AmyLiorate on 9/20/10 at 8:18

Map please.

I travel this area frequently but I can not tell where the connector will land on the Centennial Park side.

Will 28th connect to 31st? (Typical Nashville name changes, but particularly odd for a numbered street to do so)

Or will 28 connect to 28? That is a distance of about 1500 feet but would squeeze between two HCA buildings. Maybe that is why a quarter mile road will cost $20M?

31st looks like the best choice because it is a wide road and continues around VU. 28th basically stops at West End. But that route is less than 600 feet.

Why will this short roadway cost $20,000,000?

By: localboy on 9/20/10 at 8:29

"After the interstate tore the neighborhood in half, Jefferson Street, the city’s soul, became a shadow of itself. It was a complicated time, and there were no heroes, and any villains who carelessly divided Nashville’s most prosperous black district are long gone." To the author - name one villain.

By: dvana on 9/20/10 at 8:34

Why would you spend $20 million for a connector? It's only a few turns to get to Centennial Park from 28th. There are traffic lights and more than one lane in each direction.
Could Metro could find a better use of $20 million than this project?

By: CountryBoyinCity on 9/20/10 at 8:46

This is a good project it's expensive because it is a bridge, which is necessary to get across CSX on the other side of HCA. All bridges are expensive; maybe critics of this project should protest one in their neighborhood instead of this one.

By: AmyLiorate on 9/20/10 at 9:02

I'm just looking at the cost. Not criticizing the connector.

A grade level crossing would be a lot cheaper. Though on second look it seems there are multiple sets of tracks.

For the high cost it might be better to use 25th until Nashville can pay off the NCC and junk like that. I've had to make that route a hundred times, it's not the worst.

By: Myth_of_the_Nob... on 9/20/10 at 9:03

@ local boy,

You're gonna love the answer to your question. The "villain" if you wanted to blame one was actually the federal government. The property for I-440 was acquired in the mid to late 60's during the "Urban Renewal" Era. This was before we had local MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organizations) where citizens, through their local elected officials, could program how federal transportation dollars were spent in their region. So the Government decreed that there should be an interstate that bisected the north Nashville neighborhoods ...and so one was built. This doesn't happen today because local citizens and local interests are better represented in the planning process.

-MythOfTheNobleSavage

By: bonbonbon_jazz on 9/20/10 at 9:20

I live on 30th Avenue North/West End and am just wondering what this will do to property value in the area. Does anyone know?

By: xhexx on 9/20/10 at 9:32

Jazz, your property value will likely go down. The connector will bring more traffic to West End Ave . Just what it needs. Your neighborhood will likely get an uptick in crime as well.

By: JohnGalt on 9/20/10 at 9:39

Myth...Check the construction dates of I-40 vs I-440 and you'll find North Nashville was "split" by I-40.

By: bonbonbon_jazz on 9/20/10 at 10:06

xhexx -- that's what I was afraid of!

By: Archit on 9/20/10 at 10:28

You have gone to a much lower physical distribution model in order to focus on your online version but aren't taking advantage of the medium. I have made this comment so many times and you just don't seem to care. If you don't have room for visuals in the printed version that's fine, but that is what would draw your readers to your online version, if they couold get more info online. When you have stories like this that scream for the need of a picture, drawing, or map put the thing online. This story needs a map. All of the space that was used by words to describe these roads could have been edited out and a map used in there place. So provide a map. Show a map. This story needs a map. I can't understand this without a map. Do you have a map. Map map map map map map map map map map.
Do you get the point?

By: bonbonbon_jazz on 9/20/10 at 10:35

Archit - I found a map here: http://nashvillest.com/2009/05/12/bright-early-smaller-world-edition/

By: Archit on 9/20/10 at 11:07

OK, now that I have looked at a map I understand where this connector is. What I don't understand, unless there is a lot more than is described in this article, is what this has to do with I-440 or I-40. If I understand, we are talking about connecting over the railroad tracks that have been there for who knows how long. Yes I-40 and I-440 ripped through the area like a brainless monster and seriously destroyed an important part of the city but this connector doesn't address that in any significant way. And no Mr. Dean it will not make people get off on 28th to go to West End, that would be stupid, they will go to West End on I-440. This connector will not make the 28th/Jefferson exit make any more sense. Depending on the direction you are traveling you can get on one but not the other and then enter from one but not the other. It's a mess. This doesn't address that. Does it make that part of town more accessible from the West End area? Absolutely. Is it a good thing? Absolutely, but please don't try to justify it with things that have nothing to do with it. That just sounds like your trying to compensate for a lack of justification. How will this affect property values on 30th? It will definitely make the value go up. 30th is now very secluded, and seclusion in a city draws crime, more access is not always a bad thing, more eyes on the street helps reduce crime.
Let me be clear, I am all for this connector, but lets try to understand why it is a good thing, so that we can keep in mind the things that still need to be fixed.
One more suggestion, make it a great bridge, take it beyond utility, landscape it, design it beautifully, consider it in context with the new Centenial Park plan.

By: CountryBoyinCity on 9/20/10 at 8:37

I agree it’s a good project. I think the interstates are mentioned to draw a contrast. The Interstates were roadway projects that isolated these neighborhoods, the 28th/31st connector is a roadway project that will do the opposite by providing additional connectivity to reduce their isolation.

By: WickedTribe on 9/20/10 at 8:55

This is a complete waste of time and money. Getting from West End to North Nashville is already easy as pie. Pretty much every avenue from 14th to 25th connects West End to Charlotte, and Charlotte connects to Jefferson on 28th, DB Todd, and 8th Avenue.

What is the justification for this waste of tax dollars?

By: bonbonbon_jazz on 9/22/10 at 8:38

I agree, WickedTribe. I live in the area and have never had a problem getting over to Jefferson. Sure, it would be slightly more convenient to save a couple of turns -- but that slight convenience is not worth $20 million dollars!