Road plan update given

Author: Brandon L. Jones
Source: News-Herald

The transportation facelift to revamp the intersection of highways 321 and 11 — a combo project that would also launch a “fly-over” across the troubled interchange — is still in the works and Lenoir City Council was provided an update on these matters during a workshop Monday afternoon.

John Hunter, project manager at the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), and Bob Bowers, of Wilbur Smith Associates, addressed council’s questions regarding these ongoing projects, in hopes of obtaining cost estimates, project completion timeframes and a general understanding of where the state stands. 

Regarding the new bridge that will span the Tennessee River while concurrently avoiding Fort Loudoun Dam, Hunter noted TDOT has a design in play for a four-lane bridge to stretch roughly 1,200 feet. The avoidance of the dam would allow Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to ditch the headache of having to work around the bridge in order to handle general maintenance. 

Hunter said the predominant hold-up at present revolves around construction costs, which he said is not in TDOT’s three-year plan. “If funds were there, we could start construction,” he said, commenting that it’s an 80/20 deal (80 percent paid through federal funds and 20 percent through the state). However, no costs were given, save for the general acceptance of the project branching into the multi-millions. 

Hunter noted once construction funds are provided and the projects actually take flight, the timeframe for construction would be 36 months, “give or take.” 

There will also be a public hearing in due time concerning the “signature bridge” — which Lenoir City Mayor Matt Brookshire stated the city indeed wants.

A pedestrian walkway on the new bridge is also being considered. Members of WATeR (Watershed Association of the Tellico Resevoir) are pushing for this. Larry Benson, a member of the group, was present to simply ask about this measure, which council generally agreed with. Benson noted WATeR has help install roughly 16 miles of trails in the area and this would be another way for people to enjoy the bridge, without a car and traffic.

Hunter, who mostly handled the discussions regarding both the fly-over and bridge, commented that “[TDOT’s] moving forward with design plans” for the fly-over, which will greatly reduce the traffic woes the city’s travelers are experiencing at the current intersection.  
And there was more good news. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said no endangered species would be affected, he said.

He further mentioned that right-of-way (ROW) plans were also in the works and that, should everything run smoothly, plans should be finalized by next June. The, essentially three-phase process for the fly-over breaks down as such: a preliminary design should be in place by the year’s end; by next spring, a public hearing would then be scheduled; and the acquisition of ROW plans (which are also in the three-year plan) for the fly-over should come by late summer. 

The funding for the fly-over is also set up on the aforementioned 80/20 plan, though construction costs are not in the current three-year plan, Hunter said. 

Bowers, of the transportation and infrastructure consulting firm Wilbur Smith Associates, discussed the matter of Highway 321 corridor improvements. The corridor study by TDOT examined Highway 321, from I-40 to the intersection at Highway 11.

On the outside, the corridor’s overhaul seems confusing, especially financially. City Administrator Dale Hurst questioned whether the city could financially take the lead, partnering with TDOT finacially. Hunter said he believed that would be no problem. Hurst said he believes this would show city leadership in the project thus facilitating assistance in paying for the various improvements to be made.  If so, the state could then handle construction implementation, in preparation of contracts and other matters.

One of the projects slated among the corridor improvements is the intersection of Old Highway 95 and Harrison Road, in front of Lenoir City High School. Councilman Tony Aikens noted those who deal regularly with that intersection “have got a tremendous headache . . . [and] we need to give those folks some relief.” 

A private developer is reportedly building around that area and council members said those plans “mesh quite nicely” with the city’s. Also, should the developer near completion first, as officials expect, the developer would be responsible for dealing with the questionable intersection in order to actually finish the job, allowing the city to save a little money and move toward other problem areas.