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Appendix: Case Study Profiles

5. Chattanooga, Tennessee - Riverfront Parkway

Funding Sources and Amounts: City general and capital improvement funds. Hotel-motel tax. Business contributions to RiverCity Company's budget. Private donations (approximately $60 million).

Years: 2000–2005

Agencies/Organizations Involved: City of Chattanooga, RiverCity Company, Tennessee Department of Transportation

Geographic Area: Central Business District of Chattanooga, Tennessee

Problem to Be Addressed

For decades, Chattanooga's Riverfront Parkway provided a mobility corridor through the center of the city, primarily for freight traffic. While this limited-access highway responded to needs of the 1960s and 1970s, Chattanooga had changed as a community by 2000. An overall decline in industrial output and activity in the city had led to decreasing truck traffic on Riverfront Parkway. In addition, several properties along the parkway were beginning to redevelop into commercial uses and civic destinations, adding population and visitors to parts of central Chattanooga that had been occupied by industrial land uses. This shift in the city's economic geography meant that Riverfront Parkway was now the central spine of the city's waterfront, serving multiple visitor destinations and suggesting a need to reconsider the road's balance of access and mobility highway functions.

Objectives of Project

The Riverfront Parkway plan was a more focused planning effort aimed at implementing a larger vision statement developed in the 1980s. Specifically, it sought to address how an existing limited-access expressway could be redesigned to promote connection from downtown Chattanooga to the Tennessee River waterfront.

Summary of Project

The 2001 Riverfront Parkway Transportation and Urban Design Plan focuses on a stretch of Riverfront Parkway between downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. The parkway was considered by the city's transportation planners, local freight-oriented businesses, and Tennessee DOT to be a vital part of the city's transportation network, but at the same time was seen by city leaders and economic development officials as blocking riverfront redevelopment. The plan resulted in redesign of Riverfront Parkway from a high-speed, limited-access highway into a true waterfront street that brings value to downtown and provides local community access.

The Riverfront Parkway design was the final action in realizing a connection between downtown and the Tennessee River waterfront, facilitating pedestrian movement between the two, and improving the riverfront's look and feel as an open space and recreational amenity. Changing the roadway design from a four-lane expressway to a two-lane street was a response to a new land use context along the river that had changed significantly from its past as an industrial corridor.

Type of Funding Used for Project / Plan

Population Served and Modes Served

Downtown/central Chattanooga businesses and visitors, through the civic works components of Chattanooga's larger downtown/riverfront vision, are intended to appeal more broadly to city residents. The project serves primarily vehicles and pedestrians, although its enhanced access to the downtown street network has enabled circulator and scheduled transit to use Riverfront Parkway as needed as well.

Project Details

Vision 2000

Chattanooga has become a nationally recognized model for its use of visioning as a guide to strategic planning. In response to environmental pollution, industrial decline, and urban disinvestment, it launched a broad public outreach effort in the early 1980s and developed a comprehensive vision statement, Vision 2000, which articulated several goals and desired outcomes for the city to achieve. One of these was surmounting the barrier to the Tennessee River posed by the Riverfront Parkway expressway. Early discussions for addressing this issue proposed complete closure of the expressway, though this idea received weak public support and did not advance for further planning.

The issue of the parkway as a barrier remained in the public consciousness, however, and by the late 1990s had generated interest in considering a revised approach. The Riverfront Parkway Transportation and Urban Design plan first began in 2000 and came from a design charrette-driven planning effort involving a broad range of stakeholders. Though closely coordinated with the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, which have consolidated land and transportation planning functions, the project was led by the RiverCity Company, a private, not-for-profit agency. RiverCity was formed in the 1980s to implement the Tennessee Riverpark Master Plan, a long-term "blueprint" for development and redevelopment along 20 miles of the city's riverfront and one of the original objectives of Vision 2000, but over time evolved into a de facto downtown development agency that led implementation of many of Vision 2000's other components.

Through the charrette process, the following three major action items were developed to arrive at the parkway's reconstruction. It is important to note that all these proposed changes were implemented a mere 5 years after the visioning exercise:

Connect Riverfront Parkway to downtown streets with four new intersections (at Second Street, Lookout Street, Lindsay Street, and Houston Street). The connections have greatly enhanced the accessibility of Riverfront Parkway, where previously there were only two options in accessing downtown Chattanooga from the parkway. While capacity on the parkway was reduced overall, the redesign of the road matched the demand for capacity with the number of lanes. Equally as important, facilitation of the parkway's integration into the downtown street network has resulted in increased capacity for the network overall, in effect recasting the access-mobility balance to make more sense for downtown's modern needs.

Make Riverfront Parkway into one of Chattanooga's premier addresses. The plan recommended substantial streetscape improvements, including on-street parking, new sidewalks, and street trees. The improvements have provided better connection among major waterfront destinations (i.e., Ross's Landing Park and the Aquarium), centers of activity (Bluff View Arts District, University of Tennessee, and downtown), and the river.

Match the lanes of traffic to the expected traffic volumes. The plan recommended redesign of Riverfront Parkway into a boulevard in combination with reducing it from four to two lanes west of Lookout Street to match expected traffic volumes.With the four new intersections, the redesigned parkway was expanded to accommodate the area's existing and projected traffic.

Prior to this process, transportation studies had concluded that Riverfront Parkway held excess capacity. Converting the parkway from a four-lane high-speed arterial to a two-lane parkway as it passed Chattanooga's downtown would still accommodate all existing trips on the road while allowing additional pedestrian-friendly measures such as curbs, park lighting, sidewalks, and street trees. This alone would not enhance accessibility between downtown and the riverfront, however. Through the course of the charrette, RiverCity's consultant explored a number of possible connections to downtown's street network. Traffic impacts on the system were analyzed for each scenario, allowing the consultant team and charrette participants to see the benefits, challenges, and tradeoffs relative to each option.

Livability Principles Promoted by Project

Promotion Livability Principles
F Increase transportation choices
  Promote affordable housing
F Enhance economic competitiveness
F Support existing communities
  Coordinate Federal policies and leverage investment
F Value communities and neighborhoods

P: Partly Supports
F: Fully Supports


  • The city's partnership with TDOT was not ideal, as the agency did not support conversion of the expressway into a two-lane street. Local and State elected officials made a special appeal to have the road released to the city, which was ultimately carried out at the Governor's request.


  • Significant returns on investment have been achieved in terms of private development: nearly $2 billion in private investment (as of 2008) has resulted from approximately $120 million in planning and construction costs associated with the Riverfront Parkway design and reconstruction. These include the following since the project's completion in 2005:
    • 15 housing projects were completed, underway, or in progress, comprising $227 million in investment.
    • Over $55 million in commercial developments include 150,000 square feet of new retail space, a multiplex cinema, and hotels.
    • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee has located its new $300 million headquarters downtown.
    • Volkswagen attributed its decision to locate a $1 billion production facility in Chattanooga to the city's emphasis on quality of life and its "ability to make the intangible tangible."
    • Two new structured parking facilities have added more than 900 spaces of parking formerly occupying surface lots.

Perspectives on Implementing the Project and Its Impacts

Project Status

As of early 2010, the status of the project is as follows:

Applicability of Lessons Learned to Other Projects or Challenges

Private partnership provides a critical base of support and potential funding opportunities. Chattanooga's collaborative governing infrastructure working in concert with its strong downtown-focused network of civic organizations played a significant role in initiating the visioning effort for the Riverfront Parkway Transportation and Urban Design Plan.

Strong leadership is essential. By many accounts, creation and implementation of the Riverfront Parkway Transportation and Urban Design Plan could not have happened without the active participation and championing of then-mayor Bob Corker. In addition to advocating the project to local agencies and the public, he is credited with the successful transition of Riverfront Parkway from State to local control. This allowed the RiverCity Company and city of Chattanooga more flexibility in planning, design, and implementation.

Roles of MPOs / DOTs and Policy / Plan Outcomes

TDOT expressed particular concerns over alteration of Riverfront Parkway's design based on an early proposal from city and community leaders to close the parkway altogether. While the original concept of complete roadway closure gave way over time to a modified cross-section, TDOT continued to have concerns over its conversion from a mobility-focused expressway into an urban street.

For More Information

Sources and Other Resources:

HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership | DOT Livability | FTA Livable & Sustainable Communities
Updated: 10/20/2015
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