The perception many appear in Blount County is that completing the Pellissippi Parkway Extension is a foregone conclusion.
That was one attitude Tennessee Department of Transportation officials were trying to disavow during a Public Alternatives workshop Oct. 25 at Heritage High School. The auditorium at the school was three-quarters full at the beginning of the session.
According to the printed material handed out at the meeting, the focus of the meeting was to gather public input on the refined purpose, need and potential project alternatives.
The project would extend Pellissippi Parkway from where it ends at East Broadway Avenue to about where Morningstar Church is located on East Lamar Alexander Parkway. The possible alternatives shown included a straight route, a more winding route and not building a route at all.
“These are alignments that have been done,” Nancy Skinner, senior planning manager, said. “We haven’t developed plans. We’ve just been gathering input. We’re asking for input on alternatives. Any project must have a rigorous environmental review process that involves public input.”
Since the last public input session at the high school in the summer of 2006, 295 people have made comments about the project. The 2006 meeting was the first step in the Environmental Impact Statement process and the Oct. 25 meeting was the second step.
According to the TDOT, state officials conducted a traffic forecast and operations study that has helped refine the purpose and need and helped define the range of initial alternatives. One of the subjects state officials have considered have been traffic forecasts if the project is completed and if it isn’t.
Skinner said that by 2015 if the extension isn’t built, Highway 33 and Highway 411 each continue to fail in terms of not being able to convey traffic properly. By 2035 parts of downtown begin to fail.
If the extension is built, in 2015, U.S. 129 conveys traffic well. The intersections of Highway 33 and Wildwood Road run well, Skinner said.
In 2035, Sections of Pellissippi Parkway would begin to fail and some sections of downtown streets will be failing.
Skinner said another reason for building the route was a lack of an east-to-west corridor for the communities east of Alcoa and Maryville.
Skinner said alternatives for project have included: not building it, using transportation systems management, using public transit, upgrading existing roads in the Northeastern portion of the county between Highway 33 and East Lamar Alexander Parkway and building the extension.
Following the introduction, participants were invited to look at maps that showed where the highway extension could be placed if it were built. Several voiced their concerns about the project.
Ingrid Haun of Blount County said the extension wasn’t needed because by 2035 sections of Pellissippi Parkway would be failing anyway. “I don’t think they’ve thought this through. This plan has been around for 30 years,” she said. “It’s not going to solve as many problems as it causes.”
Maryville realtor Martha Lou McCampbell said the extension could help the area. “The presentation, in my opinion, was weak. There wasn’t any revelation,” McCampbell said. “I appreciate the work they’ve done but this is an extremely slow process. I do hope they go on with the plan for the Pellissippi Parkway. I think it will benefit us.”
Gordon Collins, Sevierville Road, Maryville, said he was against the project. “We need to work on existing roads,” he said. “All these roads need to be improved before building a new highway and dumping more traffic on these roads.”
Chris Soro with C2RL Engineering, said the process has been thorough. “I think it’s a very organized process designed to seek opinion from the public. I think this process has been used a number of times.”
Soro said that the extension isn’t a project that is definitely going to happen, but he hoped it did. The extension could improve the area road network and improve the connection between Oak Ridge and the new research and development park being built on the former Jackson Farm. “We’d like to see it become a reality,” he said.
The next step is to review public comment from this meeting and use them to finalize the project’s purpose and need statement. Participating agencies also will be asked to provide input on the purpose and need of the project and the alternatives to be evaluated in the Environmental Impact Study.
After reviewing all the comments from the public, the TDOT project team will refine the list of preliminary alternatives that meet the purpose and need of the project and avoid and/or minimize the impacts to identified environmental resources.
The final purpose and need and set of alternatives to be evaluated in the draft of the environmental study will be posted on the project website. Public comments can be mailed to TDOT by Nov. 15 at TDOT Project Comments, 505 Deaderick St., Suite 700, James K. Polk Building, Nashville, Tenn., 37243-0332.