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Work on Cumberland Ave Strip to start in June | News

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Work on Cumberland Ave Strip to start in June
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Work on the long-delayed project to overhaul the Cumberland Avenue Strip near the University of Tennessee is expected to finally start in early June now that the city has a contractor that it can afford to pay.

After failing to find a developer during the previous two bidding attempts, Knoxville officials on Tuesday received proposals from two construction teams just minutes before the 11 a.m. deadline.

The city now plans to move ahead with the company that came in at the lowest cost.

"First and foremost we are very excited to see this project come forward. It has been a long time coming," said Anne Wallace, a project manager in the city's Office of Redevelopment. "Merchants and folks who own business in the area have literally been envisioning changes to Cumberland for more than thirty years."

As it stands, Southern Constructors is the "apparent" winner, city officials said, submitting a proposed bid of roughly $16.87 million – about $400,000 lower than the proposal made by Blalock & Sons.

The city's engineering department will still have to review the documents to ensure that everything is in order. Officials will then iron out a contract, which they expect to bring before the City County and the Tennessee Department of Transportation by the end of the month for approval.

If everything works out, construction crews should be turning dirt on the project's first phase by early June and wrapping it up by the end of the year.

The second and final phase will start soon after should finish up by August 2017.

In the meantime, the city will hold a public forum at 5 p.m. on April 2 at UT's Visitors Center to talk more about the work.

Officials have long sought to complete the avenue's redesign in two phases, both of which would include new sidewalks, the addition of turn lanes and new medians, plus landscaping, benches and pedestrian-scaled lighting.

The first phase was designed to ease traffic on the western end of the corridor, the stretch of Cumberland Avenue between 22nd Street and Alcoa Highway. The second was supposed to focus on the Strip from 22nd Street to 16th Street.

Officials, however, had to push back the project a number of times.

Last April the city put plans on hold when no companies bid on Phase 1 of the project. The city tweaked the proposal by combining the two phases, but by December received only one bid – by Southern Constructors – for $25 million.

The city declined because at the time it had budgeted only $11 million for the project.

Officials earlier this year went back to the drawing board and added three elements to the corridor's proposal they hoped would make it more efficient and cheaper for builders.

For example, KUB will separately oversee much of the utility infrastructure, which includes replacing gas, water and sewer lines, some of which predate World War II.

The project also will feature comparable materials purchased locally and at a cheaper cost.

In addition, the city will close a small eastbound stretch on the Strip just east of University Commons to West Volunteer Boulevard for six weeks starting in June. The move will allow contractors to keep materials and equipment locked up and on-site and save on man hours.

The city will keep the westbound lane open and provide a detour route for the public.

To supplement the project's funding, city leaders also moved $10 million set aside for the Washington Pike expansion since it's in its early stages and won't be affected.

"We really feel like this will set the stage for a welcome to the university, to the downtown, to the fort sanders neighborhood that has been missing for a long time," Wallace said.

Southern Constructors has expanded and built a number of projects at UT, including the Lady Vols softball stadium. The company also has overseen work on greenways, wastewater facilities and pump stations throughout East Tennessee.

A Southern Constructors officials who was at the City County Building Tuesday when city leaders unveiled the bids declined to comment.

The City of Knoxville is considering two bids for the project to overhaul the Cumberland Avenue Strip near the University of Tennessee campus.

The bids were due by 11 a.m. Tuesday at the City County Building. Only two companies submitted proposals for the project, with Southern Constructors offering the lowest bid at just under $16.87 million. Southern Constructors had submitted the only bid for this project in the past, but it was too high.


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