Beltway OK'd
Orange Route needed, says state highway chief; Pellissippi extension, too

November 11, 2003

Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely announced Monday that two proposed road projects will go forward but it will be years before the first shovel of dirt is turned.

With about a dozen local and state elected officials lining the wall behind him, Nicely said the Orange Route beltway was needed and would proceed. The Pellissippi Parkway extension in Blount County, Nicely said, would continue as soon as a federal judge lifts an injunction against continued work.

A third project, the James White Parkway extension, was put on hold until local government officials and planners decide if it is needed and what form it should take.

The $270 million Orange Route to the northwest of Knoxville would affect fewer homes than other routes and costs $125 million less than a more northerly path, Nicely said.

"Our research shows the beltway is needed to address congestion," Nicely said.

At Interstate 640/40/75, more than 160,000 vehicles come together each day, said TDOT Chief Engineer Bill Moore.

TDOT heeded the findings of the University of Tennessee Center for Transportation Research study on the Orange Route, Nicely said. The report called for working with the public to determine the proper alignment and interchanges for the project. Nicely said that could add 18 months to the process.

In addition, a special Context Sensitive Solutions Resources team of state and local officials will examine how to put the four- to six-lane highway into the pastoral area without destroying the rural setting.

"We're probably talking three to five years before we see any construction," Nicely said.

Also given the green light was the proposed Pellissippi Parkway extension. That project was halted last year by a federal judge after Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension filed suit. The group alleged the state failed to complete the necessary environmental studies before launching the project.

Nicely said "the department would actively cooperate with the Federal Highway Administration and other parties to initiate and conduct the maximum level of environmental analysis needed to move this project forward."

Moore said the road will carry tourists to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

"We would hope that the group will work with us," Nicely said of CAPPE. "But if they don't, on road projects you get used to being sued."

The proposed James White Parkway extension, also called the South Knoxville Connector, did not pass the litmus test for continuing now. Nicely referred the project to local authorities for a determination of a route, interchanges and environmental concerns.

"It should be noted that new environmental and route studies could take three years and require significant development costs," states a TDOT review of the project.

The James White Parkway Extension Task Force, a volunteer group of residents headed by City Councilman Joe Hultquist, spent 18 months studying the project. Their report calls for the elimination of one interchange and the extension of the road to Gov. John Sevier Highway and was given to Nicely two weeks ago.

Nicely said the report shows the community is up to the task of studying the project before returning to TDOT with a construction plan.

Hultquist said he intends to ask City Council at the Dec. 23 meeting to rejuvenate the task force and possibly add some members so the group can resume work on plans for the parkway extension.


Don Jacobs may be reached at 865-342-6345.

Copyright 2003, Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.