Jim Dunn, president of the United States Marshals Museum (USMM) Foundation, ran into pushback about the $15 million Kelley Highway extension to Riverfront Drive project at a recent meeting of the streets, bridges, and drainage capital improvement plan (CIP) advisory committee.
The group met Thursday (Feb. 22) to discuss May Branch and Town Branch drainage improvement options. The CIP committee advises on spending priorities for funds received from the city’s 1% sales tax, which grosses around $21 million annually.
During the public comment section, Dunn asked for consideration of funds to finish the Kelley Highway project and enable easier access to the Marshals Museum, which has a planned opening date of Sept. 24, 2019.
“That city improvement is crucial to the Marshals Museum,” Dunn said, adding that it “is not only crucial to us, but it’s crucial to the development of the riverfront and for downtown redevelopment. … I know you have almost an unlimited need with unlimited resources, but this is one way to move the city forward and improve the tax base.”
Committee member Robert Brown responded by asking Dunn how many cars per day the Museum expected. While Dunn did not have that number, he said conservative estimates placed expected visitors to the Museum at between 115,000 and 120,000 per year, or just over 300 visitors per day.
“But that’s cyclical, and there will be very busy times when traffic will be much heavier.”
Brown acknowledged being against the project, noting that the Museum already had multiple points of entry.
“With the number of accesses as you come across the bridge: you’ve got Grand (Avenue), you’ve got Rogers (Avenue), you’ve got Waldron (Road). They have numerous points of access. I don’t see spending $15 million on 100 cars a day. I don’t think that’s a good exchange for us, but that’s just my opinion,” Brown said.
‘NO EASY ROUTE’
On the other points of access, Dunn argued that “if you drive those streets as compared with the extension of Kelley Highway, it’s dramatically different.”
“It’s easier to come down the Kelley Highway extension where it’s four-lane all the way with fewer stop lights,” Dunn said, adding that “you can’t have too much access to downtown and the riverfront.”
He continued: “We have to make it easy for people to come visit, and that’s much easier. It’s Ward 2, and there is very little going on in Ward 2, and if we can’t open that up to more traffic to get people in, then it’s going to seriously impede traffic and seriously impede our ability to do what we are trying to do right now.”
Dunn added that “if you give visitors a choice, they’re going to take the easiest route, and there is no easy route right now.”
In January, Los Angeles-based design firm Thinkwell: The Experience Co. rolled out the schematic concepts for the five-part museum experience, and in late 2017, the museum made available a virtual reality tour from its current site on Riverfront Drive. The planned 50,000 square-foot facility still has $19.7 million left to raise of its final $58.6 million goal.