The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Lesli Bales-Sherrod

  

TDOT says right-of-way funds already secured despite protest; questions remain about cost that could exceed $100 million for 4.5 miles of new roadway

Those who want to weigh in on the proposed Pellissippi Parkway Extension in Blount County have another opportunity this week to voice their opinions on the controversial $60 million, 4.4-mile highway extension. 

An earlier, virtual public hearing on the matter was deemed insufficient by members of the public and, notably, Blount County commissioners.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation will hold an in-person public meeting 5-7 p.m. Tuesday at Heritage High School, 3741 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville.

The state transportation department is holding the meeting at the request of Blount County Commission and in conjunction with the virtual design meeting that was open April 15-29.

As previously reported by Hellbender Press, the proposed 4.4-mile stretch of four-lane highway would lengthen State Route 162, known as Pellissippi Parkway, from where it ends at Knoxville Highway (State Route 33) to East Lamar Alexander Highway (State Route 73/U.S. 321) in Maryville.

The project, which would impact 56 properties and cost at least $60 million, is controversial. Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension, “believe(s) this interstate highway is not needed, wastes state resources and will have negative impacts on the area along the route, and on the quality of life in Blount County as a whole,” according to the group’s website, saveitdontpaveit.org. Opponents are also concerned about the project’s impact on Little River, a biologically and species-rich river that originates in the Great Smokies and is the main source of drinking water for Blount County. 
 
“Approximately 225-275 comments were received via the virtual meeting website and 100-150 comment cards were received during the 21-day comment period after the meeting closed on April 29, 2021,” Mark Nagi, community relations officer for TDOT’s Region 1, told Hellbender Press this summer.

Transportation projects are developed in four phases: planning and environmental; design; right of way; and construction. The Pellissippi Parkway Extension is in the design phase.

“The public meeting is one of the first things we do as we kick off and get a lot of input with the initial design,” says TDOT Region 1 Director Steve Borden in a video uploaded to YouTube on Sept. 15. “After we complete this phase, we will be heading into the right of way phase, which is funded, so once this process is complete we will start the right-of-way phase of the project.”

The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting is to allow affected property owners and the general public to comment on the proposed design elements for the Pellissippi Parkway Extension.

A formal presentation will begin at about 5:30 p.m., followed by a short Q&A, according to TDOT.

“Beyond this initial presentation and group Q&A, most of the evening will be reserved for one-on-one conversations between TDOT representatives and individual attendees,” according to TDOT’s Pellissippi Parkway webpage. “TDOT asks that questions and comments raised during the group Q&A be limited to the general design of the project and that questions or comments regarding a single property be reserved for the one-on-one conversations while reviewing project displays.”

A Design Meeting Display, a Design Meeting Handout and a Design Meeting Video Flythrough that were available for April’s virtual design meeting are still online for those who want to review the design before Tuesday’s meeting.

Borden noted the virtual design meeting was held because of COVID-19 and that TDOT will record Tuesday’s meeting for those who are uncomfortable attending in person due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

“We are going to videotape the meeting so they will be able to hear all the questions and all the answers, see all of the presentations online, and they will also be able to comment on our website as well so that we can extend that period of comments,” he said.

The Pellissippi Parkway Extension has been part of the Knoxville regional transportation planning vision since 1977, according to a 2010 Draft Environmental Impact Statement. A Record of Decision issued in August 2017 selected a preferred route for the new stretch of road, which would cross Old Knoxville Highway, Wildwood Road, Brown School Road, Sevierville Road and Davis Ford Road before terminating near Morning Star Baptist Church in Maryville.

TDOT estimates the project would impact 56 properties and result in 11 single-family relocations, according to the Record of Decision. Cost estimates have ranged between $60 million and $65 million, an estimate prepared by TDOT in June 2017, and $194 million in “Horizon Year 2026” dollars, according to the TPO’s Mobility Plan 2040 finalized in 2016.

Nagi told Hellbender Press earlier this year that the discrepancy in the figures was due to a change in methodology. No new figures are available for the project on the TDOT website.

 

img 2460State and local officials want to expand another ‘road to nowhere’ by way of the controversial $200 million Pellissippi Parkway extension in Blount County.   Lesli Bales-Sherrod/Hellbender Press

The newest road to nowhere

The former “missing link” of the Foothills Parkway. The “road to nowhere” in Bryson City, North Carolina. Blount County, Tennessee, has its own unfinished road project, without the catchy nickname: the Pellissippi Parkway Extension.This proposed 4.4-mile stretch of four-lane highway would lengthen State Route 162, known as Pellissippi Parkway, from where it ends at Old Knoxville Highway (State Route 33) to East Lamar Alexander Highway (State Route 73/U.S. 321) in Maryville.

The project, which would impact 56 properties and cost at least $60 million, is not without controversy. Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension, “believe(s) this interstate highway is not needed, wastes state resources and will have negative impacts on the area along the route and on the quality of life in Blount County as a whole,” according to the group’s website, saveitdontpaveit.org. Besides loss of farmland, residences and businesses, CAPPE’s concerns include sprawl, traffic, water and air quality, noise, economic impact and the destruction of wildlife habitat and increased rates of roadkill.

State and local government officials, however, maintain the Pellissippi Parkway Extension will address needs such as “limited mobility options in Blount County and Maryville, poor local road network with substandard cross sections (with narrow lanes, sharp curves, and insufficient shoulders), lack of a northwest/east connection east of Alcoa and Maryville, safety issues on roadways in the area, and traffic congestion and poor levels of traffic operation on major arterial roads and intersections,” according to the Record of Decision signed by the Federal Highway Administration on Aug. 31, 2017.

The Pellissippi Parkway Extension has been part of the Knoxville regional transportation planning vision since 1977, according to a 2010 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and has a long, storied history -- complete with a 2002 lawsuit from CAPPE, seeking to stop it. Nothing has happened publicly, however, since the Record of Decision selected a preferred route for the new stretch of road, which would cross Old Knoxville Highway, Wildwood Road, Brown School Road, Sevierville Road and Davis Ford Road before terminating near Morning Star Baptist Church in Maryville.