Should Knoxville build this bridge?

Nick Della VolpeDowntown

Knoxville Mayor Kincannon has rekindled Rogero’s earlier dream of a river-crossing footbridge extending from the UT campus to the South Knoxville riverbank. Great for UT. A place to house part of its growing student body in apartment buildings. Maybe even a foot crossing for drivers seeking to park before a ballgame. However, for the average city taxpayer who would foot the bill, not so much.

The administration estimates the cost at $70 million. Once contractors start sinking support pilings in the river muck, or on the karst-plagued river bank – historically masking hollow underground limestone “solution channels” that complicated construction of Thompson- Boling arena – toss in another $20 million in cost overruns. Not to mention typical materials’ cost inflation.

This shows how the bridge would terminate at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Thus far, the city is only funding a search for federal funding of part of the cost. It’s reportedly a hunt for $25 million in “free” federal funds. This was pitched as a harmless toe in the water. But you know how that goes. Once the camel has its toe under the tent, the head and hind quarters will soon follow.

The bridge sketch is charming. A romantic trapse across the river. Perhaps a nice place for wedding pictures? But realistically, this needs to be funded primarily by UT, its main beneficiary. No average Joe can park on Neyland, near the main terminus on the north side of the river. It’s the students’ bridge.

Tell Nashville to open its wallet. The city, of course, might get a little tax boost from a few merchants peddling cokes and chips on the other side. Perhaps the city might justify contributing 15 to 20 percent of the cost. But it can’t be the sugar daddy here. There are too many city priorities that need funding.

Nick Della Volpe is a lawyer, a gardener and a former member of Knoxville City Council.

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