Shaw Ferry Road project moving forward, TDOT waiting on AT&T

Brittany Davenport News Herald

Improvements at the intersection of Shaw Ferry Road and Highway 11 are closer to being started officials said, again.  

"After countless promises made, after incredible lack of coordination among the TDOT (Tennessee Department of Transportation) and utility entities; after repeated communication breakdowns, we still haven't moved the first shovel of dirt," said State Representative Jimmy Matlock.

According to TDOT Project Manager John Barrett, the state agency is moving forward with the project. "As of right now and this is fact, it is our intent to try to tackle this project and expedite it in a timely fashion, however with the winter months approaching there may be obstacles ahead," he said.

A bid was awarded for the project in February 2010 to Patty Drilling Inc. and contract calls for the project were to be completed by Oct. 31, 2010.

At that time previous County Commissioner Wayne Gardin said he had talked with TDOT and everything was a go. Months later no progress had been made. "Local residents are and should be very frustrated and I as their state representative am greatly embarrassed at the way this project has been handled," Matlock said.

Officials were assured at the announcement of the project it would be completed long before now, Matlock said.

Gardin, who represented the Sixth District where the intersection is located, said he stayed abreast of the situation keeping the intersection on TDOT's front burner. "I've called them every two weeks for two years," Gardin said in February.

AT&T, the last utilities involved in the project to clear the right of way is almost done, said Chris Walker, a spokesman for the entity.

AT&T was cleared to proceed July 28 after Lenoir City Utility Board and Charter Communications removed their necessary utilities, Barrett said. AT&T informed TDOT they would be done by Sept. 17. 

A snag in progress was made when utility lines in AT&T's way were not immediately claimed. It was later discovered the pole belonged to AT&T, Barrett said. 

According to Yvette Martinez, TDOT Community Relations Officer, AT&T missed the Sept. 17 deadline and an Oct. 12 deadline and was given a new deadline of Nov. 7.

Utility companies are not under control of the roadway contractor, Barrett said, adding TDOT works on good faith with utilities. "In some ways we're at the mercy of them," he said.

According to Walker, AT&T crews have been working at the intersection for the last few weeks, night and day and through the weekends.

The company should be able to pull their utility polls by Tuesday and allow for the road contractor to start working, he said. "We've kind of got the final leg of the baton and we're looking at the finish line...," Walker said.

As far as completion of the project, TDOT will have to reevaluate to determine a time line, but doing so is not possible until AT&T has completed its work, Barrett said.

The improvements will include left turn lanes on all four approaches, line of site improvements and red lights. Caution lights and rumble strips are currently in place at the intersection.

Drivers and local leaders have long maintained the problem with the intersection is the blind hill on Highway 11. Anyone attempting to turn from Shaw Ferry Road is unable to see the cars until the top of the hill, at times too late to stop an accident from happening. 

The intersection of Shaw Ferry Road and Highway 11 has been the site of several serious accidents and at least two fatalities.

In July 2009 the Loudon County Commission voted to approve two resolutions to get the project to fix the intersection up and running. The first resolution passed by the county commission contained the standard agreement for the county to give TDOT the land needed and to take any necessary steps to move any utilities or anything else not connected with the highway. It also included provisions for the project's drainage and maintenance of the road frontage. The commission approved a second resolution acknowledging the county will take responsibility for lights on the road, to pay the electric bill for those lights and do standard maintenance.