owners applauded Lenoir City Council during its meeting Monday,
when they voted to proceed with the state's plan for seven lanes
on Highway 321.
During a Jan. 25
workshop, several business owners expressed their distress at
engineers' proposal to close several median openings along the
highway. At that time, Christopher Rhodes and Jonathan M. Moore,
engineers with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. of Brentwood,
Tenn., explained the results of their firm's study of the
Highway 321 corridor, offering proposed solutions to traffic
Those proposals included closing the median cuts at Gondolier
Pizza, Courtyard Plaza and Ingles. These proposed closings drew
outcries from business owners. Early in Monday's council
meeting, Mayor Matt Brookshire said he asked the engineers to
take another look at two of the median cuts and bring back an
alternative to closing them. He said he anticipates hearing from
them in about 10 days.
Later, Council members Eddie Simpson and Douglas "Buddy" Hines
offered another option - going with a plan proposed five years
ago by the state. The proposal was rejuvenated after several
council members met with legislators Thursday for Legislators'
Night Out. "They brought some things back to my mind that we had
talked about for years, and that was how we could seriously
handle the traffic on 321," Simpson said. "Everybody knows we do
have some problems on 321. "What I would like to see done out
there, which is the same as the state would have done several
years back, is to start at Simpson Road and come toward Broadway
and accept the state's plan to make that six lanes - three lanes
either way - and with a turn lane all the way through that
parcel of 321," he said. "Also I would like to start the other
direction, and we have already contracted and working with
Kimley-Horn on the improvements from Simpson Road, going the
other direction as far as the Chevrolet dealership."
Simpson recommended the council move forward with that as
planned, doing the turn lanes. He said he thinks the city will
have enough funds through the state to fill in all the medians
in the first portion but not the second.
The third part of his motion would be to deal now with the
intersection of Highway 321 and Broadway (Highway 11), he
said. "We all know that's a bottleneck. It's possibly going to
continue to be a bottleneck until the bridge is done," Simpson
said. "We have confirmation that the bid for the bridge is going
to be let December 2010, which is 11 months away. That does move
that back up on this year's letting of the bids so I felt good
about that." "What I would like to do from the intersection is
to find out where that property is going to come out - that's
where Kimley-Horn needs to be involved - and take this widening
and corrections of that intersection on through to join with the
bridge that crosses the Tennessee River and the railroad
bridge," he said.
Council member Tony Aikens said while he was not at the
Legislator's Night Out meeting, he talked with state Rep. Dennis
Ferguson Monday. Aikens said he received an e-mail reporting the
three-year program (to widen Highway 321) will likely be
released in April, is a candidate for funding and the plans are
ready to go. "I agree the continuous turn lane is not as nice as
the turn lanes the city was proposing; however, I don't see that
we could turn down basically free money either," Aikens said.
"Plus, as discussed in a workshop, these businesses out here on
321 that were complaining, you know, they've got a legitimate
concern. We should take care of those businesses out there as
much as possible, just like we take care of downtown." As such,
he seconded Simpson's motion to proceed with the state plans.
The mayor then expressed his concerns. "Part of what we
discussed the other night was, again, trying to make sure that
whatever improvements we do, we get those improvements paid for
by TDOT," Brookshire said. "TDOT much more likes the idea of the
corridor improvements that Kimley-Horn has proposed, much more
so than they do what they refer to, in Nashville, as 'suicide
lanes,' and that is a continuous turn lane."
Brookshire said the council members are talking about taking
Highway 321, designated as a scenic highway and billed in the
city as 'the Lakeway to the Smokies' to capture traffic from the
interstate from the Smokies, and ripping up the grass median,
which has a potential to be landscaped, and putting in asphalt.
He said a continuous turn lane offers no help to the motorists
in how to proceed in traffic. "We think the median cuts we have
now are unsafe; wait until you open that up as a free-for-all
from basically Highway 11, all the way out to Burger King," the
He asked the council members, with exception to the median
closures in question, what their opinion would be. "My opinion
would be the same, after hearing what the legislators said in
their meeting the other night," Simpson replied. "What the
legislators said was this - it may not be as good a project as
what you all wanted but we got it worked this far up the
ladder," Brookshire said.
Simpson butted in to call for question to end further
discussions and call for a vote. "Robert's Rules of Order
doesn't mean anything," Brookshire cut in. "I've got a copy of
Robert's Rules of Order in my office. That calling for question
does not mean we have to vote on it."
Simpson asked the opinion of City Attourney Shannon Littleton
who said the rules in question should end any discussions. "I'll
ask for a recess then," Brookshire said. "I'll ask for a recess
while I get my notes and the city attorney can review those."
Simpson then objected to the recess and said he would take over
the meeting if Brookshire left the room.
Brookshire turned to Littleton and asked if he can call for a
recess, at which Littleton replied the mayor could do so. With
that, Brookshire nodded, got up from his seat and - while
walking out of the room, faced Simpson and pointed to him,
saying "Don't get up."
While absent, Simpson continued discussions. "Being scolded for
something this body wishes to do, I can't have any respect for
that," he said. Hines said he thought the plan to close the
median cuts had no consideration for the businesses there. "I
think that ought to be considered," he said. "The money we get
from the state, will that do the intersection up here?" Council
member Mike Henline asked. "What they told us the other night,
there is an earmark of $7 million for the flyover, and the
flyover came back with a $32 million cost," Simpson said. "The
state or anyone else can come up with $32 million to build a
flyover that passes by Lenoir City. I just feel it was useless
to have it."
However, he answered, according to the state legislators, a
portion of the $7 million can be used to improve the
intersection and prepare it to tied to the bridge when it is
finished."I personally feel we should move forward with it. We
are going to be able to get the funds to do that in a timely
manner," he said. "I feel confident after talking to the
senators, to the legislators, that we can do that."
He noted there were nearly 50 parcels of property that would be
affected by the flyover. However, with the plan involving a
continuous turn lane, it is upsetting only seven parcels or
less. "I think that's very important that that's what we do,"
Mark Matlock, a developer of property along the highway, said he
would like to applaud the city council members for taking that
"It's a tough
decision to sit down and go through and plan what's best for our
city - it's a tough job - but I think you heard the outcry from
the last meeting from people who have businesses out there,"
Matlock said. He noted the tenants of businesses along the
corridor are highly supportive of whatever can be done to help
those businesses survive. "I think it's great," he said. "I
want to applaud you for taking this stand to help the
Concerning the continuous lane's control of traffic, Simpson
said the state's plan calls for arrows for appropriate places to
turn. "It's not going to be a raceway through there," he said.
"It's going to be marked." From Simpson Road to the interstate,
the median will remain open with the improvements the city has
already agreed to fund, he said. During Matlock's praise,
Brookshire re-entered the room.
The mayor assured
business owners present at Monday's meeting, he is not going to
do anything to hurt their business' accessibility. "I think my
tenure here as mayor has been pretty supportive of growth on 321
and recognize it's essential to what we do and how we proceed,"
he said. "My point is, simply this, we've got lots of good
options, all of which could potentially be paid for by TDOT,"
Brookshire said. "Our city administrator was just down in
Nashville the week before last. He threw out some of the options
that we have been discussing until tonight." Simpson then asked
the city attorney, "Who won the debate?" "Unfortunately, both
of us are right," Littleton replied, "The call for question does
end the debate; however, there is a procedure to go through to
end the debate. Unfortunately, we are going to get into a little
bit of a mess here because - the way I see it ... I don't know
if the mayor disagrees with me or not - but it's whoever had the
floor at the time the question was called for."
from the Robert's Rules of Order, "Any member who wishes to
force an end to the debate must first obtain the floor by being
duly recognized to speak by the chair." The question then
became who had the floor? Simpson conceded to let the mayor
finish his comments before voting. "He can't take all night, so
let's hear the rest of it," Simpson said. "That's right because
we know how it's going to turn out," Brookshire said with a
small laugh. He asked, "What do you want for 321?" "The
business people don't want their crossover closed, Matt," Hines
said. "I told you earlier tonight I asked Kimly-Horn to propose
an alternate option that would leave them open," Brookshire
said. "Do you think we need to turn down the funding, mayor?"
Aikens asked. "You miss my point," Brookshire said. "TDOT likes
all of our proposals. They like the idea that we are trying to
come up with a solution. They want to partner with us."
He referred to Kimley-Horn's Jan. 25 proposal and said TDOT
supports that plan more than a continuous turn lane. "Why make a
decision tonight, so hastily, that's not based purely on fact
when we don't know exactly what TDOT will fund?" he asked then
noted, "They have indicated to us that they're open to lots of
ideas. They're open to funding the corridor study at the same
time of funding improvements to 321, heading toward Blount
County, wrapping it all into one. "You know the flyover's not
going to happen for years to come because of the cost," he said.
"It started out as $7 to $7-and-a-half million. It's now up to
$32 million - over $9 million just in acquisition of property.
"So, TDOT has indicated to us that maybe we can roll all this
into one project: Take care of the traffic on 321 heading toward
Blount County and at the same time putting in place some of
these corridor improvements - and they would partner with the
city and fund it the same way you are talking about," he said.
"Would it come out of the same money? No, it wouldn't. It will
not be the same pot of money."
He noted hopefully the money will be released three years from
now on the continuous lane project. Aikens said based on the
information he received from the state representative the
three-year (continuous lane) project will likely be released in
April and is a candidate for funding. "Mr. Ferguson seems to
think that that funding is there and available," Aikens said.
"The plans are ready to go, and I will agree it won't look as
pretty. I think we have an excellent police department and I
think they can control the traffic situation. "I just believe
for those businesses out there we can't be closing the median
turnarounds, and that's what was being proposed originally," he
said. "I understand you (Brookshire) had contacted the
architects to take another look at it, but I don't think we
should be turning down funding. It's money out of the city's
taxpayers' pockets, and I just don't think we should be turning
it down. "It may be three years, I don't know," Aikens said.
"I'm just going by what the representative said. It's my
understanding, from him, that they really stressed that
situation they thought the funding was going to be available and
the plans have been drawn up for it. "I think we need to move
forward with it," he said.
Simpson, reading from the representative's e-mail, said, "The
three-year work program will likely be released in April."
"That's not saying it's going to be three years before any of
that work's going to be done," he said. "That is saying that
work program will be released, and how that's going to be
scheduled will be decided at that point. So, that's not saying
it's going to be three years before it starts."
He asked City Administrator Dale Hurst about some money
earmarked for the flyover, adding Simpson thought that amount
was $7 million. Hurst said the amount is $7-and-a-half
million. "It's a federal earmark," he said. "There's really no
reason that we couldn't use that money for the intersection,"
Simpson said before he again called for question. The vote to
proceed with the project, which includes the continuous turn
lane, received unanimous "ayes" from the council and applause
from business owners in the audience.