Road projects coming to end

By Stephanie Myers

Improvements at Sugarlimb Road and U.S. Highway 11 are taking shape as crews lay rock in anticipation of pouring new asphalt for turn lanes.

The project, which will include adding street lighting, a traffic signal at the intersection and turn lanes in all directions, is scheduled to be completed in April, according to Eddie Simpson, superintendent with the Loudon County Highway Department.
“All of the lanes have been moved over and they’ve got the rocks put down for the shoulders and all that, but they just haven’t paved it because the (asphalt) plants were shut down,” Simpson said. “They’ve set the mast supports and now they have to set the metal poles” for lighting fixtures.
Simpson said the intersection, which neighbors the Loudon County Justice Center, could also include control devices for emergency personnel to activate a green light in case of an emergency.
Construction at Sugarlimb is slated to cost $500,000, Simpson said. But the equipment could prove pricey at around $100,000 for installation.
Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw said the emergency feature added to intersection improvements at Sugarlimb, would be beneficial not only for law enforcement but motorists.
“I think that was a long time coming. There is a lot of traffic right there, especially Wednesday morning it’s treacherous because the parking lots are full, there are people parked along the road,” Bradshaw said.
“I think that would be a good thing,” he added about the emergency feature. “A lot of times even when law enforcement go through a red light running lights and sirens it’s still a high risk. That would be an asset.”
Crews are also clipping along on U.S. Highway 11 improvements at the intersection with Muddy Creek and Ford roads as workers prep to install lights. Simpson said the project, though the original projected deadline has already passed, will be put on hold for the next six weeks or so as crews wait for warmer weather to lay new asphalt.
“They are waiting for the asphalt plants to open back up. And once they open up all they lack there is setting their masts and redirecting the traffic and everything right there,” Simpson said. “The plants ... are scheduled to open back up sometime the first of April.”
Simpson called both U.S. Highway 11 intersection improvements at Muddy Creek and Ford roads and Sugarlimb Road important not only for traffic but also safety concerns.
“I think Muddy Creek had more accidents, so in my opinion that one had a little priority over the one at the justice center. The justice center just had a lot of time delayed. You had to wait a lot of times to be able to get out up there, especially if you were turning back toward Lenoir City,” Simpson said.
“Muddy Creek just had such a bad hill right there and if you don’t have something to regulate that traffic you’re going to have a lot of accidents and there have been a lot of major, major accidents right there — more deaths probably than anywhere other than Shaw Ferry (Road at Highway 11),” he said. “I think it Shaw Ferry was the worst one and then Muddy Creek. And that one was approved three years ago with the safety improvements. And it has helped a lot. There are very few wrecks there now.”
Another traffic light will be installed “sometime in 2015” at Old Highway 95 and Highway 411, Simpson said, costing about $150,000, which will also include adding turn lanes and restriping of Old Highway 95 and Niles Ferry Road.
Dixie Lee moving forward
Calling improvements to Dixie Lee Junction “a long time coming,” Simpson said state funds have already been appropriated for the $6 million project and it is currently in the process of right-of-way acquisition. Improvements, which also include adding a traffic signal, are scheduled to be completed within the next two years.
“Now we’re waiting on right-of-way acquisition to be able to bring that into an intersection and make (Highway) 70 the through street. You wouldn’t even have to stop,” Simpson said. “And Highway 11 (from Lenoir City) will have to stop right in front of the Two Rivers Church. They will stop right there and turn right to go to Knoxville or left to go to the (Eaton) Crossroads, but that money has been funded.
“There have been a lot of accidents right there and a lot of deaths,” he added.
Local officials and residents have been pushing to fix the junction for years, but acquiring rights of way had been a big problem.
“And there has been a half a dozen, that I can think of, different scenarios how they can take the road and all of that. Now that (The Fireplace and Patio Shop) finally closed up and when it closed up then the state said now would be a good time for us to buy that property, so that’s been the major hang up is to buy that,” Simpson said. “That eliminated buying all those other properties around.”
Bradshaw agreed with Simpson’s assessment.
“That will also improve business in that area. Right now it’s so hectic to get out and it’s so dangerous,” Bradshaw said. “I think it’s going to be a good thing for Loudon County.”
Simpson said he believes two local projects, managed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, that were delayed last year due to uncertainty in federal transportation funding will be moving forward quicker than had previously been expected.
TDOT Commissioner John Schroer sent a letter in October to Tennessee state legislators reporting that 12 construction projects and 21 right-of-way acquisitions would be shifted out of the fiscal year 2015 budget. The Loudon County projects affected included a right-of-way acquisition for a signature intersection at U.S. Highways 321 and 11 and construction to widen 1.4 miles of U.S. Highway 321 from the intersection with Highway 11 to Simpson Road East from four to six lanes.
“We’ve actually had a couple meetings on it lately and that’s going to be released,” Simpson said, adding that the two projects will coincide with the new Tennessee River bridge project.
“We don’t want the (new) bridge to be open and the traffic” bottle neck, Simpson said.
“And they are doing a safety study on Highway 72 that I’ve been involved in from the Loudon city limits to the Roane County line. We are trying to straighten out some of those curves,” he added.