By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

City considering a cul-de-sac for Mathews at site of new Division 4


Last updated 6/19/2019 at 8:55pm

Mathews Avenue may be returned to two-ways for several blocks and a cul-de-sac created for the new Division 4 campus in Knoxville.

A second community meeting on the Dept. of Public Works' (DPW) 4th Division site redevelopment featured public safety officials addressing concerns about public safety access should a cul-de-sac be added at the bottom of the hill on Mathews Ave.

The meeting to gather neighborhood feedback was held on June 10 at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh - Knoxville.

DPW shut down the former Division 4 facility a few years ago when it became uninhabitable as the building was toxic and unhealthy, and no longer viable. Division 4 responsibilities have since been split between divisions 3 and 5.

An ongoing series of public meetings will take place before anything else is finalized. The only certainty is that it will be rebuilt on the same site on Bausman St. in Knoxville as the former 4th Division facility, which was recently demolished.

The meeting also featured the announcement by DPW director Mike Gable that no recycling is permitted at the site.

At the first community meeting on April 22, an attendee complained people come by the site at all hours to recycle. Another attendee said bottles are dumped daily in the blue dumpster from bars in the South Side.

A sign says recycling is open 24 hours.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus said the site would be kept nice until rebuilding occurs. But the 24-hour sign needed to go.

The proposal for the 4th Division site is to return part of Mathews Ave. to two-way and add a cul-de-sac at the bottom of the hill.

Only the 300 and 400 blocks of Mathews Ave. would be two-way – the rest would be one-way.

Mr. Kraus said the proposed cul-de-sac represented a desire to close off Mathews Ave. "for a better footprint to build this new campus."

It would also reduce Mathews Ave. traffic to local traffic only; allow DPW to secure the site; provide safety for DPW vehicles and employees maneuvering the site; and more.

Currently, vehicles can go down Mathews Ave. which has an "S" turn leading to Bausman St. and the Division 4 site. But vehicles often surpass the speed limit.

The proposal is to take away the "S" turn and put in a cul-de-sac, and build the facility.

While neighbors expressed concerns about public safety vehicles getting through, the police, fire, and EMS officials in attendance all said it can work for them.

A former public works driver said he was worried about how big vehicles would be turned around in the case of a fire.

Mr. Kraus said one idea is an "emergency swing gate" if an emergency arises.

Options for getting public safety vehicles through include a gate somewhere in the cul-de-sac, or a bay, or space, on the building they can cut through.

Mr. Gable said officials will look at the best technology for public safety to get through the cul-de-sac.

While the fire department has big vehicles, the vehicles with the police and EMS are smaller, so there should not be a problem, Mr.Gable said.

Also under the preliminary plan, Grimes Ave. would remain two-way so traffic can access the 300 block of Mathews Ave., local traffic only.

Preliminary drawings of the new facility include these proposed elements: existing fuel pumps and tanks; warehouse/garage/offices; car wash; employee parking; and covered material storage. The site will have sidewalks.

There will be no salt dome as the Route 51 facility will instead be used.

The timeframe is to issue a request for proposal (RFP) this month for design consultants. The contract process will occur during August-September, followed by design and construction documents from October to May, 2020.

Construction would likely not begin until 2020, although DPW director Mike Gable said at the prior meeting on this issue that it may happen sooner.

At that time, he said he was looking at prefabricated buildings to get it up quicker.

The city's capital budget has $2 million set aside for the new facility.

An attendee commented that with motorists parking on both sides of Mathews Ave. it will make it hard to turn around with a cul-de-sac. The city's traffic division will be asked to do a traffic study of the area, was the response.

Zone 3 Commander Karen Dixon said towing is an option to ensure there is parking on one side only.

Engineers will also look at having a flashing light or more on Bausman St. for school children crossing the road.

Another attendee said he supported the Mathews Ave. change as it would "significantly shut down" the drug trafficking in the area.

To a question of how a large fire truck would turn around, fire battalion chief David Smiley said a street is different at different hours of a day. His biggest concern is motorists' ignoring parking regulations.

Today, the street is big enough for parking on one side and traveling in the other direction.

As long as parking is enforced, he has no issue in traveling to an emergency, he said.

For turning around, fire fighters can back up blocks at a time.

"We're good at that," he said, reminding attendees that garbage truck drivers do it all the time.

"We don't have problems – we have challenges.

"But we will have a pre-plan for this," he said.

The EMS official also said there was no problem for the EMS with the proposed drawings.

"We need to trust in your experience and expertise that this will work," an attendee said to all the officials in attendance.

At the prior meeting, a Bon Air resident said closing Mathews Ave. would be an inconvenience as it is one of two access sites for her and her neighbors to get to Route 51. The other access is Brownsville Rd.

Currently, motorists can go from Bon Air to Arabella St., and then left on Mathews Ave. past the Division 4 site to get to Bausman St., which leads to Route 51.

If Mathews Ave. is closed, she said, Bon Air residents must go to Brownsville Rd., through Mt. Oliver, and down Bausman St. to reach Route 51.

Regardless of the disruption, however, she said she is willing to have the cul-de-sac on Mathews Ave. to get Division 4 back on the site for the services it provides to the area. Those services include snow removal, garbage, and service to the parklet if needed.

An attendee said more neighbors should be at these meetings. City Councilman Anthony Coghill said the council district is making its best effort to contact all local residents.

Mr. Kraus concluded the meeting by stating a traffic engineer is needed to look at all of the streets around the site.

He will make a request for a traffic study.

The next meeting on the Division 4 site redevelopment will be at 6 p.m. on September 10 at the Knoxville Library.


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