TDOT leader lends ear to gripes
Commissioner meets with foes of extension of Pellissippi Parkway

By HAYES HICKMAN, hickman@knews.com
February 7, 2003

News accounts have detailed their battles. Public hearings have
documented their gripes. And on Thursday, citizens threatened by the business of
road building sat face to face with new state Transportation Commissioner
Gerald Nicely.

Following through on a promise he made when he took the post, Nicely
came to East Tennessee for a series of personal meetings with several groups
that have tried for years to have their concerns heard.

Members of Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension in
Blount County were first on the commissioner's schedule. Through an
hour-long meeting, Nicely patiently listened to a plea for no less than the
removal of the project from the state's road priority list.

CAPPE member Nina Gregg told Nicely her group would soon make a
formal request to the Tennessee Department of Transportation for a full
review of the project's planning process since its origin in the 1986 Better
Roads Program.

The 4.2-mile route's construction is currently halted by a
preliminary injunction, which CAPPE won last July. But the group is still in a
legal battle over the Federal Highway Administration's approval of TDOT's
environmental assessment for the project.

"The burden on citizens to monitor TDOT costs us," Gregg said. "It
costs us time, it costs us money, it costs us confidence in our government."

Speaking for about a dozen members present, CAPPE President Susan
Keller said the road's effects would extend to more than the 42 homes slated
for removal.

"Most people, unlike myself, won't have their property taken by this
project," Keller said. "But they care about this county and what this
interstate highway will do to the beauty of this county."

The group cited concerns for the inevitable land development that
would follow such a road, the consequences of urban sprawl and the dangers
it would pose to water and air quality.

"And I haven't even mentioned the safety factor or the noise factor
from that whizzing traffic," said CAPPE member Marian Fitzgerald. "Loss of
rural land and green space hurts everyone in our county."

Nicely said the Pellissippi project would be included in a list of 12
to 15 TDOT jobs slated for a full review by an objective third-party team,
possibly the University of Tennessee Transportation Center.

"We're trying to get (the reviews) done over a fairly fast time track
- maybe four months or so," Nicely said.

He also assured the group that environmental concerns such as theirs
are the reason he appointed Ed Cole to the new TDOT position of chief of
environment and planning.


"I'm trying to show that we're going to give these issues equal
status," Nicely said.


While originally requested by and intended for CAPPE members, the
meeting also attracted people with a few other opinions on the road. Nicely
heard those people in the meeting's closing minutes.


Terry Nichols said his residence is one of the 42 slated to be taken
by the project. Changing alignment plans and lawsuits over the route have
left him in limbo on what will happen to his land. He said he's been waiting
six years for a decision and is still unable to build.

"I didn't buy this property for (land) speculation," he said. "I
bought it to build a home."

Nichols said the waiting game has now left him wishing the road
construction would finally proceed for the benefit of all Blount Countians.

"I feel for these people. I really do," he said. "But something's got
to give for progress."


Nicely was scheduled to take part in other meetings with proponents
and opponents of the Knoxville Beltway's Orange Route as well as citizens
who are fighting the James White Parkway Extension in South Knoxville.

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Copyright 2003, Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.

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