TDOT admits making false statement
by Darren Dunlap
of The Daily Times Staff

They were wrong, and by letter the Tennessee Department of Transportation is
admitting it to Blount County's elected officials, city mayors, planning
department directors and state legislators.

TDOT staff told city and county officials earlier this year that the Federal
Highway Administration (FHWA) had offered to do an Environmental Impact
Statement on the Pellissippi Parkway Extension.

Upon investigation, Ed Cole, TDOT Chief of Environment and Planning, learned
that's not true.

The controversial construction project was halted in federal court last July
when Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension (CAPPE) sought an
injunction for the 4.5 mile, four-lane proposed section of highway.

``While the FHWA had discussed doing an EIS on this project, no such
commitment was made,'' Cole wrote in a June 26 letter to CAPPE board
member at large Nina Gregg. ``Accordingly, our statement that FHWA had
`offered' to prepare an EIS was in error.''

In CAPPE's petition to stop the project, the group charged the FHWA, the
United States Department of Transportation and TDOT violated the National
Environmental Policy Act by not preparing and circulating for public view an
EIS of the project, which begins at Old Knoxville Highway (Tenn. 33) and
East Lamar Alexander Parkway (U.S. 321).

According to CAPPE members, TDOT told city and county officials earlier this
spring the FHWA had offered to complete an EIS on the project, an inaccurate
statement repeated at a May listening session by Blount Partnership President and CEO Fred Forster.

The listening session, held by the University of Tennessee Center for Transportation Research, is part of a review of the project.

``I think what I publicly stated at the meeting was what I heard (TDOT) publicly state. Apparently, that was incorrect,'' said Forster. ``I'm glad they corrected the record.''

The statement prompted CAPPE to bring the error to the Cole's attention.

Gregg spoke with Cole June 9 about the inaccurate information and requested
clarification on the issue to city and county officials, as well as city and
county planning departments and state legislators.

Gregg was surprised that officials at the May listening session didn't approach CAPPE after Forster's statement.

``I know that many local officials had also received this erroneous information and none had approached us to discuss it,'' she said.

The result of the error, wrote Gregg to TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely on
June 11, was that officials and the public had been misinformed, ``and the
credibility of citizens who are members of CAPPE has been damaged.''

With regard to TDOT's handling of the matter, Gregg said, ``We're very
appreciative of TDOT's thorough response to our inquiries.''

TDOT also sent a copy of the letter to the UT Center for Transportation
Research for their review file on the project.


All materials Copyright 2003 Horvitz Newspapers.