County awarded $980K

Jeremy Nash

Loudon County Highway Department recently received funds officials believe will help to pave more roads in the county beginning spring 2017 than in years past.

Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization has awarded the county an 80-20 matching grant of $980,000 out of Surface Transportation Program funds, which for the first time can only be used for paving. STP funds are typically used for items like guardrails, sidewalks and other things for safety. Loudon County Highway Superintendent Eddie Simpson said the county’s match will be paid through additional state aid funds given to county highway departments across Tennessee in response to state officials taking money out of the highway fund several years ago.

Loudon County’s portion this year is $400,000 on top of the $180,000 the state already gives Simpson’s department annually. Thanks to the help of state Reps. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, and others, what was normally an 80-20 match in state aid funds was dwindled down to a 98-2 match, Simpson said.
Hopes are to obtain an additional $200,000 next year, Simpson said, but Gov. Bill Haslam still has to approve the funds.
“We’ve been able to secure this year we should be able to pave about $2 million worth of projects,” Simpson said.
The department plans to pave 20 miles of road in the spring, Simpson said. On average the county only paves three to five miles per year and patches the rest to get an additional four or five years out of some roadways. No roadways were paved this year while the highway department waited on state aid funds, he said.
“In the last 20 years, which is the life of a average road, and in the last 20 years we’ve only been able to pave about 6 or 7 percent of our county roads out of the 500 miles that we have,” Simpson said. “That additional 15 miles is, it’s a blessing to us to be able to get that, even though it’s restricted on what roads we can do.”
Simpson said plans are to conduct roadwork on 18 projects covering 13 roads, including 2 1/2 miles of Buttermilk Road spanning from Knox County to Roane County.
“I put some of my funds, my matching funds, into that and it’s already been approved and it’s in the engineering’s hands now to repave Buttermilk (Road) from county to county, from the Roane County line to the Knox County line,” Simpson said. “It will be done in addition to these, because I did that because it was a bad road and we had enough funds to be able to match that and do it.”
County officials initially thought they would be able to obtain $2.2 million from TPO, but some roads didn’t meet guidelines. Road eligibility is based upon pathways being on the state aid system and within the circumference of the TPO area, Simpson said, noting if even a small portion of the road falls out of jurisdiction it makes the entire road ineligible.
“They’re long roads, they’re wide roads, and to be able to pave them with this TPO money is just awesome that we’re going to have the opportunity, and the county’s in the situation, or in the proximity of Knoxville, to be able to make us eligible to be able to get it,” Billy Pickel, county assistant highway superintendent, said. “People say that Knoxville’s moving west and becoming into Loudon County. Well, that’s a good thing for us and our taxpayers. This has been a benefit to us to be in that proximity. Not many other counties are really eligible for it.”