Update: Pellissippi Parkway Extension traffic projections include 'Southern Loop'

Frank Ambrister talks to Lindsay Walker about the proposed Pellissippi Parkway Extension

By Rick Laney

of The Daily Times Staff
rick.laney@thedailytimes.com
February 20, 2008

More than 500 people packed the auditorium at Heritage High School Tuesday evening for a public meeting on the proposed extension of the Pellissippi Parkway.

The Blount Partnership, which favors the extension, promoted the meeting and passed out stickers supporting the project as people entered the school. Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension (CAPPE), a group that has voiced concern about the project, was also well-represented at the meeting.

The project, according to earlier estimates from the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization, would cost about $37.4 million.

Maps and charts showing area roadways and traffic flow were on display outside the auditorium. Some attendees said they learned for the first time that all of the projected traffic improvements from the project are based on both the Pellissippi Parkway Extension and the completion of a different project called the "Southern Loop."

The Southern Loop is, according to TDOT officials, a 26-mile loop through Blount County that is part of a "long-range regional transportation plan." The Southern Loop travels around Maryville and would, according to TDOT, improve circulation around the city.

Ingrid Haun, a Louisville resident, asked TDOT and local officials why the projected traffic congestion on the maps showed no significant variation between the maps with the parkway extension and the maps showing no parkway extension.

Becky White, a consultant working for TDOT, said, "There are differences in congestion between building the extension and not building the extension, but the build model does not entirely satisfy every traffic demand within the system."

Two possible routes -- a "Route A" and a "Route B" -- are under review as the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) considers extending Pellissippi Parkway from where it currently ends at Old Knoxville Highway to East Lamar Alexander Parkway east of Maryville.

Under "Route A," Pellissippi Parkway would extend from Old Knoxville Highway parallel to Jackson Hills Drive across Sevierville Road and Davis Ford Road to connect with East Lamar Alexander Highway about one mile west of Helton Road.

The proposed "Route B" would take Pellissippi Parkway from Old Knoxville Highway across Mount Lebanon and Sam Houston School roads toward the Sam Houston School Historic Site and then turn sharply south toward the Mack Hitch Farm before connecting with East Lamar Alexander Highway near Heritage High School.

Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham told those in attendance, "Common sense would dictate that 'Route A' is the preferred route because fewer homes are disturbed, there is less environmental impact and the need for less bridging."

Dating to 1977

In 1977, local officials submitted the first request to the state for an extension to the Pellissippi Parkway. Through the 1980s and 1990s, the project was discussed, studied and analyzed. After completing the planning stage of the project, TDOT is now working on an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

According to TDOT officials at the meeting, the planning and Environmental Impact Statement stages are followed by the design stage, right-of-way acquisition and, finally, the construction stage. The whole process is estimated to take eight to 12 years.

Options that TDOT says it is considering include not building the extension at all, public transit, transportation system management (small improvement projects), improving the roadways in northeast Blount County and building the proposed extension.

Maryville Mayor Joe Swann, when asked why officials are publicly supporting the project before the environmental analysis is complete, said, "If people aren't proactive with projects they believe in, you'll never get roads built. I don't know where we would be if we hadn't built the roads we have thus far."

Cunningham said, "Roads do not create growth -- roads are a response to growth. Blount County has been growing for 233 years -- it's been growing at a rate of 2 percent per year for the past 100 years."

Questions

Following a brief overview by TDOT officials and local mayors including Cunningham, Maryville Mayor Joe Swann, Alcoa Mayor Don Mull and Alcoa City Manager Mark Johnson, the meeting was opened to public questions until 7 p.m. About 20 questions, submitted or asked by audience members, were addressed.

After the meeting, most attendees expressed surprise and pleasure at the larger-than-expected turnout. Some residents felt many questions remained unanswered.

"I think many of the decision makers have already made up their minds," Haun said. "They may be going through the motions instead of actually engaging the public."

Nina Gregg, a board member for CAPPE, said she was pleased with the turnout but felt frustrated by the question period.

"It's frustrating that there was a sincere attempt at public participation (by attendees)," Gregg said. "People came out in good faith and didn't get answers to their questions.

As the process continues, I'm sure we'll have additional opportunities to participate -- but that could be after some decisions are already made."

Residents who did not attend the meeting can still submit comments and feedback to TDOT until March 11 via e-mail at
mike.Russell@state.tn.us or by mail to: Project Comments, Tennessee Department of Transportation, Suite 700 - James K. Polk Building, 505 Deaderick Street, Nashville, TN 37243-0332.