> Highway chief pledges effort
> Commissioner hears groups' gripes, seeks better processes
>
> By HAYES HICKMAN, hickman@knews.com
> February 7, 2003

> State Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely admits it can be hard
> sometimes to separate the valid criticisms against road projects from
the
> not-in-my-backyard excuses.
>
> "That's tough to do," said Nicely. "But that's what I hope these
people
can
> help me do."
>
> Nicely spent Thursday in Knoxville and Maryville, listening to
citizens
who
> continue to fight the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which
he now
> heads.
>
> "I'm hoping to get more input on the way we do business," he said.
>
> During discussions with groups opposing the Knoxville Beltway, the
James
> White Parkway Extension and the Pellissippi Parkway Extension,
several
> themes quickly emerged.
>
> Opponents repeatedly raised environmental concerns, using terms like
sprawl,
> air pollution, water quality and noise.
>
> But the groups also explained their common frustrations with what
they
> perceive as the department's arrogance.
>
> "From where we sit, TDOT has more than an image problem to overcome.
This
is
> about more than words. This is about deeds and actions," said Nina
Gregg,
a
> member of Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension.
>
> CAPPE is in the midst of a legal battle over a 4.2-mile route in
Blount
> County, where construction has been stalled by a court injunction
since
last
> July.
>
> "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."
>
> Nicely has acknowledged arrogance by the department, and he was quick
to
> agree during each of the four meetings that "we've got to do a lot
better."
>
> He identified three specific areas for improvement that he plans to
focus
> on: communication with the public, environmental compliance and the
overall
> project planning and construction process.
>
> Offering possible answers, Nicely highlighted his recent appointment
of Ed
> Cole to the new TDOT position of chief of environment and planning.
>
> And he explained his plans to submit 12 to 15 projects statewide for
a
full
> review by the University of Tennessee Transportation Center. While he
> expects the independent review to run fairly swiftly - four months -
he
> still wants all processes and conclusions to get a thorough look.
>
> "We can't study them to death, but if we need more time, we'll use
it,"
> Nicely said.
>
> Only two weeks into the job, however, Nicely was still short on
specifics
> about whether the projects in question would continue.
>
> Mark Richey, who led the presentation by Citizens Against the Beltway
O
> Location, said he understands Nicely doesn't have all the answers,
but he
> thinks he's off to a good start.
>
> "He's telling us how he's going to look at the process; that's what
we
> need," Richey said.
>
> But Nicely also heard from those who worried that too much time for
review
> could mean no progress at all.
>
> Supporting the Knoxville Beltway, members of Citizens Urging a
Responsible
> Beltway Selection told Nicely that the debates and reviews have gone
on
long
> enough.
>
> "The beltway project has to move forward now according to schedule,"
said
> CURBS member Carolyn Matthews.
>
> The long, yet fair process that decided the beltway's Orange Route
alignment
> "based on the facts," she said, could be circumvented by minority
group
> opinions or political influence. Six years into the route's
development,
any
> delay now might push the project back to the beginning, Matthews
said.
>
> "Don't let this project become a political football, tossed back and
forth,"
> she said. "It's not just a football, it's people's lives."
>
> Next, Nicely plans to meet with local transportation planning boards
across
> the state as he fleshes out ideas for improvement.

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Copyright 2003, Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.

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