Hot road projects to get closer look
UT center to review 15 of the most controversial plans


February 27, 2003

Knoxville News-Sentinel

Researchers have now begun zeroing in on the issues surrounding the
state's most controversial road projects with a first-of-its-kind review of how
theTennessee Department of Transportation brings a road to bear.

Following up on Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely's promise for
an independent reassessment of TDOT decision-making, 15 projects were
handed over for review to the University of Tennessee Center for
Transportation Research.

Steve Richards, director of the research center, said the estimated
$200,000 process would attempt to focus on each project's basis for controversy,
such as environmental impact, public involvement, economic analysis, etc.

"We're not going to try and go back and reinvent the wheel on each of
these projects," Richards said Wednesday. "We're going to try and target our
analysis on what the remaining unresolved issues are.

"There's a wide range of issues out there. We'll be looking at
different things for different projects."The projects, which were put on hold by Nicely, represent some $2 billion in roadwork, including the Knoxville Beltway, the Pellissippi Parkway Extension and the James White Parkway Extension.

Outlined in the terms of review for each project, the process will address, at a minimum, the following five areas:

What were the reasons for starting the project and should the reasons
be reevaluated?

What are the economic, environmental and social effects of the project?

What is that project's relationship to the local and/or regional comprehensive plans, and if appropriate, the plans of the Metropolitan Planning Organization?

Describe the extent of public involvement in the project development.

Should TDOT consider additional actions before continuing with the project
as currently scheduled?

In addition to combing through advanced planning reports, environmental documents and public hearing transcripts, Richards said the UT researchers
would also conduct some type of public forum for each project's interested

"(TDOT has) encouraged us to go out and talk to individuals, local and state
politicians whoever has a personal stake in any project," he said.

The review will be led by a five-person senior level task force
including members of various UT departments, such as the College of Engineering,
who will oversee several working groups.

The team is not empowered to cancel any project, Richard said, but it will offer recommendations on whether to reconsider previous decisions or repeat particular planning phases - for instance, advising TDOT to seek more public comment.

While their effort will begin in earnest within a couple of weeks, Richards
said the team is already gathering background materials, media reports
and conducting interviews.

A full report on each project is expected within four months.

The review comes less than a month since Nicely's own tour across the
state to meet with various citizens groups, and Richards said the effort is
intended to do more than pay lip service to public concerns.

"I can assure you that everybody within TDOT is taking this very seriously,"
Richards said. "TDOT did not tie our hands in any way."


Hayes Hickman may be reached at 865-342-6323.

Copyright 2003, Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.