Orange Route Dead

Beltway's end cheered

Residents relieved Orange Route killed; options to be studied

By Matt Lakin  Knoxville News Sentinel

Mark Richey can finally start working on his house again.

"The first thing my wife said when we heard about the Orange Route being killed was, 'Yahoo!' " he said. "The second thing she said was, 'Now we can make that addition to the house.' "

Richey, president of Citizens Against the Beltway Orange Location, his wife and other Hardin Valley residents spent the past 12 years fighting the proposed beltway that would have swallowed up homes and cast a cloud of exhaust fumes over the rural area they love.

"It's been a struggle," Richey said. "It wasn't about the money, and it was broader than the 'not in my backyard' syndrome. It was a matter of somebody else's vision for our community."

Tennessee Department of Transportation officials' eulogy Friday for the Orange Route got a joyful shout from the residents who'd opposed the plan for so long.

"It's just been a cloud hanging over our property," said Robert Shaw, another resident. "There are people who've had their houses on the market for seven years."

Those who'd endorsed the Orange Route weren't as pleased.

"I think it's a reasonable decision," said Garrett Wagley, spokesman for the Knoxville Chamber, which supported the project from the start. "We agree the residents and business owners out there deserve closure. They've been living in limbo. What does concern the chamber is that, according to TDOT's own studies, Interstate 75 is projected to be in failure by 2020 because of so much traffic. We're going to have to address that."

TDOT officials said they'll look at improvements to existing roads that would cost less and be more practical. Some politicians said that's what they wanted all along.

"I believe it was not the wish of my constituents to see the project come to fruition," state Rep. Ryan Haynes, who represents the Hardin Valley area, said in a statement. "I know there are very pressing infrastructure and road needs across the state, and now the resources originally dedicated to the Orange Route can be used to move those vital projects forward."

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe opposed the project from the beginning, calling it a roadbuilder's dream and a taxpayer's nightmare. He showed up for TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely's announcement Friday killing the Orange Route to offer his personal thanks.

"It's rare that a government official sees a project going in the wrong direction and decides to back off," Ashe said. "Tennessee and Knox County are better off as a result."

Richey and some other residents said they're not convinced the Orange Route's gone for good. They have no plans to disband their group.

"These things never really go away," Richey said. "There's an election coming up, so we'll be ready."