Parkway extension hearing jam-packed

More than 550 heard arguments for, against road plans

Frank Ambrister talks to Lindsay Walker about the proposed Pellissippi Parkway Extension

Robert Wilson/special to the News Sentinel

Frank Ambrister talks to Lindsay Walker, a representative of the consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, about the proposed Pellissippi Parkway Extension at a public hearing on Tuesday at Heritage High School. Ambrister, 75, supports the building of the road, acknowledging that he probably will not see it built in his lifetime. He says he traces his ancestry in Blount County back to 1790.

MARYVILLE - Supporters and opponents of the proposed Pellissippi Parkway Extension jammed the auditorium at Heritage High School Tuesday night for a public hearing on one of the most contentious issues facing Blount County.

An unofficial head count placed attendance at more than 550, as representatives of the Tennessee Department of Transportation, county government and the administrations of the cities of Alcoa and Maryville came to hear public comments, answer questions and discuss the merits of the road.

The Pellissippi Parkway Extension, supporters say, will help alleviate traffic congestion within Maryville and Alcoa, mitigate air pollution from vehicles, save fuel, end gridlock during high tourism periods, support growth management and more.

Opponents say few of those theories have a basis in fact and that construction of the road will rip through a scenic part of the county, destroying farmland, uprooting families and promoting uncontrolled growth along the corridor.

Tuesday night's standing-room-only crowd appeared about evenly split between supporters and opponents.

County Mayor Jerry Cunningham said Blount County has faced similar problems in the past and added that the county would be "in a heck of a mess" if such other roads as U.S. Highway 321 and the U.S. Highway 129 bypass had not been built.

Maryville Mayor Joe Swann told the crowd the planned route is within the county's urban growth boundary and would allow better control of where and how the county grows.

Alcoa Mayor Don Mull alluded to the reduced air pollution and fuel savings he said would result from through traffic bypassing the cities.

But following the meeting, resident Joe Gallagher, a former candidate for county mayor, said he opposes the roadway, believing it will cause more congestion, not less, as well as more development along the route.

He said that in a couple of years development along the corridor "will be like Pigeon Forge."

Gallagher wants existing roads improved.

Donna Dixon, who owns a business in downtown Maryville with her husband, guitarist Steve Kaufman, said business owners do not necessarily want less traffic by their establishments, and she expressed concern about the area's watershed.

She said she believes the state should address traffic problems on U.S. Highways 321 and 411 instead of building the parkway.