Lenoir City officials held a public meeting Thursday at First Baptist Church of Lenoir City in which residents could ask questions or give input on the East Simpson Road project, which is a plan to widen the road from 20 feet to 26 feet.
Engineering firm Vaughn & Melton shared design plans during the meeting. Engineer Jason Elliott was scheduled to be in attendance, but was not present due to illness.
Thursday was the first time the design plan for the project, which will stretch from U.S. Highway 321 to Shaw Ferry Road, was presented to the public.
Lenoir City Assistant Administrator Amber Scott previously said the firm, which was brought on board in October, had presented preliminary plans to city officials.
“With all the commercial development going on there with the Walmart, Home Depot, all that commercial and retail developments that they’ve got going on has increased the traffic volume on that road, as well as the number of people coming to and from the church that sits up on the hill, First Baptist Church, has led to increased volumes in traffic there,” Scott said. “And so with increased traffic volumes comes a need for a wider roadway to increase safety for the motoring public.”
A left turn lane will be placed going into First Baptist Church.
Scott said questions and input from the meeting will be given to Vaughn & Melton for consideration regarding any modifications. The design plans will then be submitted to the Tennessee Department of Transportation for right-of-way acquisition.
“Then that will begin investigating the parcels there to be affected by the widening, whether we need to purchase easements or rights-of-way for the project to move forward, and then that is a huge process because you meet with each individual property owner in depth, multiple meetings, to discuss the right-of-way acquisition or easement needed for the project,” Scott said.
Funds obtained for the project were secured through the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization, Scott said.
The federal grant, which is available through the Federal Highway Administration Surface Transportation Program, requires a 20 percent local match, Pat Phillips, Loudon County Economic Development Agency president, said. Both the city and county will both be responsible for 10 percent since part of the street is in the county. The grant comes in at $997,000.
In addition to widening the road, a sidewalk will be placed on the west side of the street, Phillips said. The sidewalk will improve pedestrian access and meet grant funding requirements.
“When you use federal funds on a project like this, you have to make a case that sidewalks are not needed or not practical,” Phillips said, adding the sidewalk would be a good connection to U.S. Highway 321.
Lenoir City residents Ron and Cindy Workman, who live on East Simpson Road, expressed concern about having a sidewalk tacked onto the road. Ron Workman said he felt the sidewalk wasn’t needed if only a couple people use it.
“If you’re going to put in a sidewalk and you have a neighborhood that has sidewalks in it where you connect to the places, I mean that’s fine,” Ron Workman said. “But you have one road with no sidewalks anywhere around it, that don’t make any sense. There’s no justification for the sidewalk.”
Lenoir City resident Melvin Griffin said he believes the road widening will actually increase traffic.
“I understand why we’re doing it,” Griffin said. “It’s for the church and the businesses, I understand that part. But I don’t understand why we have to take the brunt of everything, you know?”
Phillips said construction on the project could begin in the second quarter of next year.
“That’s purposely slow,” Scott said. “It’s deliberately that way because you’re dealing with people’s property, and I wouldn’t want to estimate that (completion date). We would probably hope to begin construction in spring, maybe spring of next year, late spring, early summer of next year.”