Highway 321 work set to begin

Stephanie Myers-News-Herald

Motorists will begin seeing more construction projects during their commute through Lenoir City.

Earlier this week, Lenoir City Council approved a bid by Patty Construction Inc., for more than $808,000 to rework Highway 321 through Lenoir City from Simpson Road at Burger King to Shaw Ferry Road.

The improvements include adding turn lanes, elongating existing turn lanes to hold more vehicles and restriping the roadway.

Council members and city administration expressed excitement on the construction, saying moving forward on the project was "a long time coming." "I tell you one thing it's long overdue. I mean, it's a long project," Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens said.

Councilman Eddie Simpson said that after taking into account the overall construction costs, along with engineering fees and other related expenses, all but about $64 would be expended as part of the $1 million grant for the project.

"That's pretty tight," Simpson said. "We have no room at all though to have any change orders or anything."

"I've never seen a budget so tight," City Administrator Dale Hurst said. Hurst said construction is "a couple years in the making."

"We had to get the grant," Hurst said. "We had to get the money available, and then we had to do the environmental, and we had to bring an engineer on board. That takes time. We're now finally to construction. I knew they would start, but they're kind of starting at the same time. Harrison Road is breaking free, and Town Creek (Parkway) is started. Now this is going to start. I knew it was coming. I didn't know when it was going to go."

Hurst said the construction, a project managed by the city, will take about eight months to complete and is in response to anticipated traffic growth with the completion of the four-lane Tennessee River bridge at Fort Loudoun Dam, which is set to be open to motorists May 2015.

Hurst said the Highway 321 improvements will ease traffic flow.

"It's needed," Hurst said after the meeting. "A lot of the lanes out there, you know, if you're turning to make a left turn we need more storage because if you can get more cars in the storage lane, and it gets them out of the through-traffic lanes, and that will help with traffic, and that's much needed. There's going to be a lot of that.

"There's some creation of some additional lanes too - some turn lanes to turn onto the interstate, which we think is much needed rather than just backing up traffic," Hurst added. "The whole idea is to move traffic and the timing of the lights. The syncing of the lights is very important, and some much improved signage and striping ..."

The Tennessee Department of Transportation is managing Highway 321 improvements from the Highway 321-Highway 11 intersection to Simpson Road.

"That's removal of the medians and so forth," Hurst said. The city administrator said that project is still in the hopper since the project has yet to be funded.

"I'd say that's a couple years out because we're talking about $7-10 million there," Hurst said. "They've got the median and additional lanes, continuous turn lanes - seven lanes."

In other business, council approved a resolution reestablishing a section of employee benefits in regards to firefighters. The resolution clarifies fire department personnel benefits for sick leave, annual leave, holiday and other leave.

"Sick leave with pay shall be granted to all full-time regular and civil service fire personnel at the rate of 14 hours per month for each completed month of service and may be accrued to a maximum of 2,880 hours," according to the resolution.

"All full-time regular and civil service fire personnel are entitled to annual leave with pay after one (1) year of continuous employment. Annual leave (A.K.A. Vacation) is paid at the employee's regular rate of pay," according to the resolution.

Council also approved a request by the Lenoir City Church of Christ regarding a fireworks display for vacation Bible school celebrations.