The Riverview resident who unveiled the new street sign at the renaming of Lincoln Street between Wilcox Drive and Dunbar Street, says it's been frustrating watching the city do other road projects, but not finish the one that benefits the Riverview community.
The city of Kingsport has now announced plans to extend Dr. Martin Luther King Drive with an extention into the newly opened Brickyard Park and then on to the Cherokee Street/CSX Railroad crossing downtown.
Jack Pierce, Sr. did the unveiling of the renamed street on January 21, 2008.
"I thought it was a wonderful thing," he remembers, "and the thought of expanding it to downtown was good, too. Mayor (Dennis) Phillips had said he was in favor of extending the street to downtown. We'd been wanting it in Riverview for a long time because there are only two ways in and out of here, Lincoln and Wheatley Street and both of them are on the same side of the neighborhood."
But then, efforts to extend the street past the dead end at Dunbar Street abruptly stopped. With no explanation, Pierce says.
"It was like they just shut the idea down," he says. "They just didn't talk about it anymore. It was very frustrating. They never said 'well we'll do it next year,' or 'we ran out of money,' or 'we've got another priority that we have to spend the money on.' We could have understood it over here if they'd just said something, anything. But they just said nothing and never mentioned it again.'
In a February 24, 2016 article in the Kingsport Times-News about a city public works presentation on upcoming road projects, it was mentioned that one of the three projects the city will begin next year, is extending Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive to Brickyard Park, and to Cherokee Street where it crosses the CSX Railroad. The project is expected to cost $1.5 million dollars.
"It's a little surprising to me that it took Brickyard Park to get the ball rolling on extending MLK," Pierce says. "Would the city have done it, without the park? That's a good question. All of these projects they proposed, that didn't have something to kick-start them.. they wanted sidewalks on Stone Drive. How many people walk on Stone Drive? They wanted a bike lane on Center Street, so they narrowed it down to 2 lanes and put in those bike lanes. You might not see a bike a day on Center Street."
Today he wonders why the street wasn't extended, even while the brickyard was operating (General Shale shut down its Kingsport operations in 2009.
Pierce says, for years Riverview residents had to go in the opposite direction to get to downtown.. first east on Lincoln, then north on Wilcox under the railroad underpass, then north on Sullivan to Main Street and downtown. "We never asked for anything the city didn't promise us," he says. "Just fulfill your promise to the folks here."
Efforts to reach the city to get specifics about when the road construction begins and where the long-awaited route will be, were unsuccessful. Right now, there's no news about it, except that according to the newspaper article, construction begins sometime next year.
Pierce says, one day, he'd like to see the name 'Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive,' extended the entire length of Lincoln Street to the John B. Dennis Bypass.
"In Bristol, Virginia Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard runs from the black neighborhood on through downtown, crosses the state line and connects to Bristol, Tennessee's black neighborhood. I was hoping they would have taken MLK all the way out. Right now, it's just a black neighborhood thing in Kingsport, maybe 3, 4 blocks long. Dr. King's name is recognized around the country and around the world.. his work transcends out of the black community. Taking the street named after him out of the black neighborhood is acknowledging the influence that he had on everyone."
Pierce says, he's not worried that the upcoming extension of MLK Drive into Brickyard Park and to downtown will increase the traffic in the Riverview Community.
"There'll be some traffic with Eastman people using it as a shortcut," he says, "and maybe some baseball people using it to get to the park and not Industry Drive. I would think that most of the traffic will probably still use Industry Drive and the new entrance at the Cherokee Street crossing."
"After all these years, I'm just glad the city is fulfilling its promise," he says. "It's all we ever wanted them to do."