After hearing a
plan for road improvements along the corridor of U.S. Highway
321 (State Route 73) during Monday's Lenoir City Council
workshop, people from several area businesses voiced their
objections to proposed median closings.
Many urged the
council to reconsider the closings, warning those closings could
affect the property values and customer base of the businesses
While Developer Mark Matlock said he applauds the engineers who
did the study on their efforts to improve Highway 321, he asked
if it were possible for the engineers and council to get
together with the businesses on the issue.
Matlock said he leases property along the corridor to about 20
to 25 people. "All those intersections need to be looked at,
too, with business people in mind," Matlock said. "These
businesses - I can tell you this because I am living it
firsthand - are having a tough time. "They need every advantage
they can have," Matlock said. "I'm just afraid of the
repercussions we may have in doing this (median closings)."
One business owner, Tom Mills, said the majority of his business
and the incomes it is producing to pay the taxes are coming from
outside this county. This means the customers are coming south
and turning across to get in, Mills said. "Given that, if you
closed it (the median), the only way to get there now is to go
down to the traffic light, which is in front of Taco Bell and
Highland Park," he said then challenged, "Gentlemen, try to take
a U-Turn there. I have twice hit the brakes, got almost
clobbered because you are allowing right turns on red lights
there ... and I'm trying to do a U-turn. Think about that one.
You aren't going to allow me to do a U-turn at that light unless
you fix that light so you can't turn right on red," he said.
Christopher Rhodes, an engineer with Kimly-Horn and Associates
Inc., which conducted the study and came up with the plan, said
the light issue is a simple fix with a NUCT-compliant traffic
sign that makes right turn traffic yield to those making a
U-turn. He warned left-turn traffic needs to keep in mind they
can only make a turn when they have the arrow. "Try that,
gentlemen, when you've got United Community Bank having an
access off of Highland Park and traffic, after hours, cuts
through and jumps back on 321, using their bank entrances,"
Mills said. "If you could put up signs that made it safer, it
could be just as easy to put up a sign at the intersection that
said don't hit anybody sticking out in traffic," said Rico
Silvera, general manager and property owner of Convenient Auto
and Marine. He said putting up a sign does not guarantee
compliance, nor does it create safety."I watch people make right
turns on red all the time when it's not compliant," he said.
Silvera said while he supports all the concepts of the proposal
in general, specifically with two proposed median closings, he
said, "it's up to the council to make sure these businesses that
have been here, built their businesses around those lane
openings and have a significant customer base, don't get our
customers trumped off from us."
Mayor Matt Brookshire said he wanted the public to understand
the access off of Highway 321 into these retail and office
centers and other businesses is not being cut off. "What are
being talked about are the median cuts out in the center," the
mayor said. "Everyone's access into their developments off of
Highway 321 will remain intact; so no one's entrance into their
property is being cut off."
Nevertheless, Silvera said in addition to his business, the
median closing cuts of two medians also serve Lenoir City Ford,
Gondolier Restaurant, Tennessee Sports Complex, State Farm
Insurance, Realty Executives, A Plus Check Advance, American
Male Hairstyling, Edward Jones, Dealer Service Corporation,
A-Plus Paint and Body Shop and Midas Auto Care and he said they
can make a significant case it impacts Taco Bell.
He said on the other hand, two other intersections, where
significant money would be spent to improve those intersections,
are in front of abandoned businesses - Harry Lane and the Dinner
Silvera referred to the study, indicating it costs $20,000 - or
4.2 percent of the total cost - to close the medians at
Gondolier and Courtyard Plaza. "If you were to turn around and
add north and southbound turning lanes to those, it adds a net
$30,000 to the entire project," he said. "I would ask the
council to consider very carefully."
Silvera said he has had two appraisals of his property done in
the past 18 months, and both of them added a significant value
because there's a median cut in front of his property. "We are
changing 28 intersections, 25 improvements and four closures,"
he said. "These two particular closures (Gondolier and
Courtyard) are going to significantly impact the property value
of those property owners and the access of their customers to
them. We draw a lot of people from out of this area who spend
their tax dollars in this area."He said when customers have to
make a U-turn to get to his business, it will slow them down.
Tom Mills said he was concerned about data used in the study in
regard to traffic flow and the business he drives. He said his
business draws customers for indoor soccer and gymnastics, after
school and after work. "These numbers don't reflect that kind
of count," Mills said.
Brookshire acknowledged there are elements to the plan those in
the audience do not like and asked to direct those comments to
the city council while directing technical questions to the
engineers. "Keep in mind, the folks at Kimley-Horn Associates
are simply doing a job," the mayor said. "They've done the
technical work. They brought back to us what they think is the
best plan for improving traffic flow and safety on 321."
Brookshire explained the city asked the engineering firm, Kimley-Horn
Associates Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn., to make a study of the
corridor and come up with a plan, which could get started next
year, to improve the highway in regard to safety and traffic
flow. The project is estimated to cost between $600,000 and
$700,000. The design and planning cost the city close to
Last month, City Administrator Dale Hurst said the city council
has asked for construction funding from the Tennessee Department
of Transportation (TDOT). He added the council is leading the
project and it hopes to receive a positive response from TDOT. Jonathan
M. Moore, project engineer with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc.,
explained part of the plan, which include:
• Installing a
southbound left turn lane at the Lane GM dealership;
• Installing a
northbound left turn lane at Shaw Ferry Road to turn into Shaw
• Lengthening the
south median at the Texaco/Exxon service station to bring the
median size up to TDOT standards and help direct traffic;
• Installing a
northbound left turn lane and a southbound left turn lane on the
median at the Dinner Bell and Kings Inn intersection;
• At the
intersection of Highway 321 and Simpson Road (in front of Burger
King), lengthening the north median, installing a northbound
left turn lane and a southbound left turn lane;
• Lengthening the
south median at Pearl Drive to bring it up to TDOT standards and
direct the traffic to the appropriate driveways;
• Closing the
median opening at Gondolier Pizza restaurant by installing a
median of grass there to prohibit any left turns at that
• Closing the
median opening at Courtyard Plaza as well;
• Installing a
northbound and southbound left turn lanes at Hickman Street
• Closing the
median opening at Suntrust Bank;
• Installing a
northbound and southbound left turn lanes at Enterprise Car
• Closing the
median opening at Ingles Shopping Center to prohibit any kind of
left turns into or out of the side streets to that location;
• Installing a
southbound left turn lane at Second Avenue; and
traffic signal phasing to allow a dual eastbound left turn lane
to turn north onto Highway 321 and to extend two through lanes
southbound on Highway 321 to merge before it goes back to two
lanes. Moore said that would require modification of the
existing island channeling, pavement markers and signs at the
intersection of U.S. Highway 321 and U.S. Highway 11 (Broadway).
Hurst pointed out plans to close the median opening at Ingles
was not in the original study.
Moore agreed the area at Ingles Shopping Center was not part of
the original corridor study made in 2007, which he said was the
genesis for all the company's recommendations approved by the
city, TDOT and the Knoxville Regional TPO. "That one was added
due to the original planning a left turn lane there, but the
driveways do not line up good, and it's better just to close
that one; and there's currently a signalized access at the
intersection of McGee (Boulevard) for that shopping center," he
said. Moore added Kimberly-Horn would recommend now to closure
of that median.
Vice Mayor Eddie Simpson asked for the reasons for closing the
other three medians. "The one at Ingles I can now understand
better than any of them that one is not real beneficial because
you have to take a right turn anyway. You can't go straight
across so that one makes good sense," Simpson said. However, he
reminded council members during the last planning commission, it
had a request from a new convenience store owner at Eaton's
Crossroads to leave open the median there. Despite
recommendations from the state and the city's codes enforcement
officer Leslie Johnson to close a median within 100 yards from
Eaton Crossroads' traffic light, the planning commission voted
to recommend leaving open that median. Simpson pointed out he
abstained from voting on that recommendation.
He explained the median opening near Eaton Crossroads is in the
middle of a stack lane, or turn lane, there is an opening so
people can get across. "It was really a bad situation," he said.
"If we get development across the street, it's going to be
worse; but how do we as a body close three intersections - and
the businesses have been there for years - and yet we leave one
open for a new business and approve that it stay open."
Johnson said for three months the planning commission kicked
back that decision on the median near Eaton Crossroads to TDOT,
for it to look at the situation. TDOT did say the contractor of
the convenience store had to improve the turn lane at that
business. "TDOT did let it agree to let it go in," she said.
Thus, the planning commission allowed the median opening. "I'm
scared - it (Eaton Crossroads median opening) is in the city,"
Simpson said. "It's probably one of the most critical areas that
we could have possibly done that, but I think we set a precedent
when we did that," he warned.
Councilman Tony Aikens sided with Simpson by saying he didn't
think it was fair to keep the median at Eaton Crossroads open
for that business while the city has businesses on the highway
that were open for years and to close their medians.
Simpson asked the engineers to "take another hard look" and see
what it would cost to add stack lanes or turn lanes at the other
three median openings and possibly the one at Ingle's as
well. "Because we are talking about businesses that are now
going to be choked off to an extent," he said. "I know they can
go to the next red traffic light, where you do have stacked
lanes, but I think it's very critical that we take another look
at that at least."
Christopher D. Rhodes with Kimley-Horn and Associates, said in
the study, the firm looked at three things: median spacing,
accident rates along the corridor and actual traffic volume.
In terms of median spacing, Rhodes explained TDOT recommends a
minimum median spacing of 660 feet. "A lot of intersections that
we're talking about closing the median, the spacing between
those medians is 350, 400 to 450," he said, adding federal
departments are even more stringent that state DOTs. "That's why
spacing became an issue; they are just too close together," he
Rhodes indicated the accident rate along the entire Highway 321
corridor is 33 basis points higher than the statewide
average. "You can ask, 'What causes accidents?' Well that's the
number of median openings and number of left turns and right
turns and median crossings that happen on the corridor," he
Rhodes aid the engineers finally looked at traffic
volumes. "We're serving nearly 30,000 vehicles on (Highway) 321,
and a lot of these median breaks were probably servicing less
than 250 over the course of the day," he said. "In terms of
putting a left turn lane at some of these locations, keep in
mind, as we design the left turn lane, it's got to have so much
storage and has to taper back into 321. Because these are so
closely spaced together, we can't meet the criteria to service
left turn lanes at each of these three medians," he explained.
"I certainly realize there are existing businesses out there,"
he said then added, "Keep in mind, our most important thing is
progressing traffic and trying to reduce accidents along the
corridor," he said.
He acknowledged, however, some of the median closures will
require U-turn traffic at left turn traffic signals.
"If the overall purpose is to increase safety and reduce drive
time, those two median cuts contribution to delays to the entire
corridor seem to be in the lower 20 percent," Silvera indicated,
asking if that were correct. "I would say the delay at those
intersections is it's is not one of the more heavily traveled
intersections in terms of turning," Rhodes replied.