TDOT commissioner meets with CAPPE
by Darren Dunlap
of The Daily Times Staff

The Pellissippi Parkway extension is on the ``fast track'' for review, Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely said Thursday.

Nicely told members of Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension (CAPPE) that the University of Tennessee's Transportation Center will take another look at completing the parkway, as well as a dozen other ``high-profile'' road projects.

He said he hoped the center would complete the reviews in four months.

CAPPE members met with Nicely in a conference room at the Blount County Library and detailed their grievances with the transportation agency's management of the project.

They said TDOT hadn't listened to public concerns about the 4.5 mile, four-lane extension, which will result in relocation of approximately 40 residences and five businesses. Four of the businesses are farms.

``We went to the meetings,'' said C.J. Fornes, owner of the Hidden Valley Trailer Park, a 25-acre parcel in the path of the proposed roads. ``No one listened.''

Contradictory information over land sales or moving dates, also left residents confused and concerned that TDOT has not only a communication problem with the public, but an intra-agency communication problem as well.

TDOT's handling of the Pellissippi Parkway Extension is a case study in the need for reform, said CAPPE Nina Gregg.

Nicely also listened calmly to criticism of the extension's environmental assessment, which CAPPE members said doesn't adequately address the impact on air and water quality, traffic and the potential for urban sprawl.

CAPPE members were impressed with Nicely, who waited to hear all the group's grievances before replying.

``I was very pleased,'' said CAPPE member Colleen Nordstrom.

He heard the group's seven board members, a couple of other CAPPE members, as well as a two citizens who spoke in support of the project. Nicely acknowledged the troubles resulting from TDOT's management of the Pellissippi Parkway extension.

``There's no doubt we have problems,'' Nicely said. ``We're sitting here with an injunction.''

CAPPE filed a lawsuit in June 2002, to halt to the project, which would extend the parkway from Old Knoxville Highway (state Highway 33) to East Lamar Alexander Parkway (U.S. Highway 321). A U.S. District Court Judge issued a preliminary injunction that stopped work on the project in July 2002, and TDOT has appealed the ruling.

No hearing date has been set for CAPPE's lawsuit.

CAPPE members pointed out other related problems, as well. Their attorney had a difficulty getting public records about the environmental assessment and Federal Highway Administration records concerning the work stop order.

They also questioned the rationale behind construction of the proposed 14-mile Southern Loop, a highway that would circle Maryville and Alcoa, and TDOT's consideration of its cumulative effect on the area.

Changes at TDOT

``I can't promise you the changes you expect will come overnight,'' Nicely said.

Within the agency, he'll focus improvement on three areas: citizen involvement, environmental concerns and the contracting process.

Nicely said with the selection Edward Cole, the agency's chief of Environment and Planning, TDOT would be able to give more consideration to environmental issues.

Cole's position replaces that of deputy commissioner. He joined TDOT this month.

Nicely said he isn't sure what the project reviews will yield. After its competition, he'll review the findings, issue a report and meet with Gov. Phil Bredesen.

``Maybe the project will stop, and maybe it will continue,'' he said. ``Or maybe it won't go forward at all, as you all would want.''

Parkway support

Former Maryville Police Chief Terry Nichols told Nicely he wanted the project to continue, that he knew ``six (to) eight years ago'' the extension might be coming through. He owns property in the path of the proposed road.

``I don't want you to think all of Blount County doesn't want this project,'' Nichols said. ``There's another side to this issue. ... It will spread the traffic, which is too much now, and may even help.''

CAPPE President Susan Keller pointed out the potential for sprawl and more traffic an otherwise quiet rural countryside.

``If you build it they will come, and we'll see growth like you've never seen,'' Keller said.

Charles Lee lauded President Dwight Eisenhower's support of the federal highway system in the '50s and wants the construction to move forward. He lives near the proposed road.

``You all talk about stopping sprawl: ain't no way, baby! Where would we be if Eisenhower didn't start the highway system? We wouldn't be able to defend this country,'' said Lee. ``Where would be without it?''

Replied CAPPE member Amy Hayes, ``Where will we be if it doesn't stop?''