Knoxville Zoo worried I-40 closure could cost them visitors, jobs

KNOXVILLE (WVLT) -- Four months from now, a portion of I-40 downtown Knoxville will be completely closed off.

Volunteer TV's Kim Bedford shows us how the Knoxville Zoo could hit a major roadblock because of the Smart Fix 40 Project.

You can see and hear I-40 from the zoo, but come May, it'll be pretty quiet around here.

Travis Brickey with TDOT says, "We're going to close the interstate, get in and get out quickly."

I-40 will be completely shut down between James White Parkway and Hall of Fame Drive beginning May first through July of 2009.

Knoxville Zoo Executive Director Jim Vlna says, "Those are critical time periods for us. One of our biggest months is May and we'll lose two Mays."

The Knoxville Zoo is projecting a 100-thousand attendance drop during the 14 month Smart Fix 40 Project because of the detours travelers will be forced to make to get there.

Vlna says, "They can really just take 640 and come around to exit 392 on 40 and it's about five minutes longer."

But that extra five minutes could be too much for out of town tourists, they showed up in record numbers last year, totaling 430-thousand visitors.

Vlna says, "We've built a lot of momentum over the past few years and losing that momentum could be devastating over long-term."

Not enough visitors could mean program cancellations and staff layoffs.

Vlna says, "If we lose more than about 22,000 people then we will have to reassess our budget and how we're going to make money to pay our bills."

Brickey says, "Hopefully it won't come to that, but I guess the biggest thing is to look at the time savings we're going to provide."

The zoo is working with TDOT and taking a proactive approach with more directional signs and billboards in the works.

Brickey says, "Literally everything that goes out of the zoo will have information on how to get to the zoo."

You can follow the progress of TDOT's $200 (M) million project by clicking the link below.