TRANSIT: Chattanooga exploring $35 million light-rail system

Geography, expenses present challenges

May 06, 2014

The city of Chattanooga, Tenn., is waiting to see whether the U.S. DOT will help fund a $700,000 feasibility study looking into the possibility of bringing light rail to the southern city. U.S. DOT could contribute as much as $400,000 toward the endeavor.

If implemented, the backbone of the system would be a north-south route paralleling Holtzclaw Avenue. The area encompasses the hub between the downtown area and Chattanooga’s poorer east side neighborhoods. The hope is that installing a new train station in the area would pave the way for extensive future development.

Under the current vision, the city would make use of existing railroad infrastructure to accommodate a light rail system, allowing for much cheaper, faster construction. This would mean purchasing the lines and right-of-ways from controlling interests such as Norfolk Southern and CSX.

Aside from the potential costs, another challenge raised by light rail opponents is the difficult geography of the city. The Tennessee River runs through the middle of the city, which would mean bridges and tunnels would be necessary for the system to cover the entire city.

No timetable is currently set for the feasibility study or for the start of construction.