County Commission recommends Pellissippi Extension Alternative A
2011-10-20
By Joel Davis | (joeld@thedailytimes.com)

The Blount County Commission voted Thursday to recommend Alternative A as its preferred alternative route for the proposed Pellissippi Parkway Extension.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation had asked the cities of Alcoa and Maryville and Blount County to state their preference of no build or one of three other alternatives.

The commission voted 15-5 in favor of Alternative A. Commissioners Tab Burkhalter, Richard Carver, Mike Caylor, Gary Farmer, Brad Harrison, Mark Hasty, Scott Helton, Gerald Kirby, Holden Lail, Peggy Lambert, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Jerome Moon, Steve Samples and Gordon Wright voted yes. Commissioners Jim Folts, Ron French, Roy Gamble, Tom Green and Monika Murrell voted no.

Commissioner Tonya Burchfield was not able to attend due to the death of her father.

Folts said that the citizens of Blount County had spoken against building the extension during the last public meeting held by TDOT.

“Citizens filled Heritage High School auditorium,” he said. “Twenty-eight people spoke. Only one was in favor. TDOT’s own report they issued after that meeting says that based on comments they received from all sources, 65 percent of citizens were opposed. Why then are we considering a resolution to spend $100 million of taxpayer money on a project the citizens don’t want? How does this make any common sense at all? Government is supposed to listen to the people. ... It’s time we started listening.”

When asked his position on the matter, County Mayor Ed Mitchell said that, after a great deal of soul-searching, he was in favor of the extension being built.

“The economic benefit I feel this could do for Blount County,” he said. “I feel this is something we need. It would enhance travel to Townsend and give those businesses there better revenue. I’ve looked at this long and hard.”

The recommendation made by the county just tells TDOT what alternative to study more in-depth, Mitchell said. “All this resolution is doing is sending a message to them that we want Route A as the one to do the environmental impact statements on.”

Burkhalter said the decision was not an easy one. “What concerns me is our job as government is to grow the overall county to ensure that we lead it in the best direction possible,” he said. “At times we will have to do the unfortunate task of eminent domain. If we choose Alternative A ... for the next 15-20 years, people are going to know they can’t sell their land because the government might come through and eventually take it. “

If the final Environmental Impact Statement were completed in 2013 and a decision was made to build the extension, right of way acquisition could be obtained and construction could start in 2017.

Alternative A would continue Pellissippi Parkway as a controlled-access interstate-type highway to East Lamar Alexander Parkway near Morning Star Baptist Church. It would require 172 acres of new right of way and displace five single-family units, one business and 10 farm parcels. Construction and engineering costs for A are estimated at $92 million and right-of-way acquisition would cost $5.4 million for a total estimated cost of $97 million.

Currently, Pellissippi Parkway dead-ends at Old Knoxville Highway near Pellissippi Place Research and Development Park. Alternative A would cross Old Knoxville Highway, Wildwood Road, Brown School Road, Sevierville Road and Davis Ford Road before reaching the terminus at East Lamar Alexander Parkway near Morning Star Baptist Church.

‘No-build off table’

During the discussion, Lambert said that during a meeting with the staff of Gov. Bill Haslam she had been told “that the no-build alternative had been taken off the table.”

Audience comments primarily focused on the negative aspects of the proposed extension.

“We can’t continue to spend money that we don’t have,” said Tom Robinson. “It would be great if everybody anywhere could continually throw money at the deficit, but, at some point, somebody on your side has to stand up and say enough is enough.”

Doug Gamble told commissioners that money would be better spent improving local roads instead of building the extension. “I drive from my house to Knoxville pretty often. It’s not difficult, it’s not congested, and it’s not especially dangerous. ... What is difficult and especially dangerous is driving from my house to Maryville along (U.S.) 411.”

John Carlton Templeton said the extension would not improve safety or traffic flow in the county. “I don’t want to see anything changed unless you can show me a really darn good reason to do so.”

Susan Keller, of Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension (CAPPE), said, “Our secondary roads are narrow, shoulderless, and substandard.”

She added that driving on a highway was nice, but “we have to exit that road and navigate dangerous ones to get to our homes.”

One speaker in favor

Only Bryan Daniels, Blount Partnership president and CEO, spoke in favor. “It takes vision and leadership to create opportunities to create jobs and making sure we have a strong economic environment,” he said.

Daniels said that the cities of Alcoa and Maryville would bear the cost of the infrastructure to serve the areas likely to be developed if the extension is built. He also said that no local funds would be involved, just federal funds that would otherwise go to another community. “The funds will be spent no matter what. Why not for our opportunity to continue economic development?”

Both the Alcoa City Commission and the Maryville City Council have also endorsed Alternative A.