The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Displaying items by tag: pellissippi parkway extension

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UPDATED: Opponents of Pellissippi Parkway Extension hammer bureaucrats, unelected economic development officials at public meeting

(This story has been updated with this link to the Tennessee Department of Transportation recording of the Sept. 21 public hearing on the proposed Pellissippi Parkway Extension project).

Raw emotions spilled over at a Tennessee Department of Transportation public meeting to collect citizen input on a nearly 5-mile, four-lane highway that would carve through creeks, forests, farms and homes in rural Blount County in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

The meeting was held Tuesday evening at Heritage High School, not far from where the proposed Pellissippi Parkway Extension (which would originate at the terminus of the current parkway near Rockford) would abruptly bisect East Lamar Alexander Parkway, just to the west of Walland Gap and the Little River Gorge.

As Hellbender Press has reported on the Pellissippi extension, many people aren't happy with the proposition of spending at least $100 million on a 4.5-mile stretch of highway, and people are uncomfortable with both the use of eminent domain to force them from their homes or seize portions of their property and the unavoidable and long-lasting environmental and cultural impact such a project would have on the rural areas of Blount County. The projected cost of the project has vacillated by millions of dollars.

East Lamar Alexander Parkway (U.S. 321) terminates in Townsend; along the way are turnoffs to many valuable pieces of real estate and immensely successful high-end hospitality venues, such as Blackberry Farm. Hellbender Press reached out to Blackberry Farm through its Nashville-based public relations team about the nearby highway project and was simply told "we have no comment."

People who did not attend last night's meeting have the opportunity to voice their opinion on the TDOT website.
 
The comment period is open through Oct. 12.
 
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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.

 

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Semantics aside, Blount County Commission calls for TDOT to hold another public hearing on controversial, $60-million roadway proposal

State highway officials will hold an in-person public meeting on the proposed Pellissippi Parkway extension at the behest of the Blount County Commission after the Tennessee Department of Transportation was criticized for the quality of the original, online-only meeting soliciting public input on the design of the controversial $60-million, 4.5-mile highway project.

The Blount County Commission voted 16-2 in June to “encourage” TDOT “to hold a publicly advertised, in-person hearing at a venue that accommodates a large crowd for public input regarding the extension of Pellissippi Parkway …”.

Here's some background on the Pellissippi extension project previously reported by Hellbender Press.

The commission resolution states that “Blount County landowners directly impacted by this extension feel they were alienated in the process.”

Transportation officials, however, told Hellbender Press that right of way acquisition would commence this year. It’s not clear to what extent public comment would impact that plan. A TDOT spokesman said previous comments had not yet been distilled to negative and positive input on the design process.

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$20 million per mile: TDOT opens virtual-only comment on highly controversial roadway

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has opened a virtual-only public comment period for the controversial Pellissippi Parkway extension, which would slice through the remaining rural areas of Blount County and move urban expansion and increased traffic flow ever closer to the Great Smoky Mountains, one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth.

The public comment period began April 15 and will last until April 25. The project has generated controversy and lawsuits for at least two decades, but TDOT decided the comment period should be held virtually for only two weeks because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The project encompasses about four miles and will cost nearly $100 million. Opponents of the parkway say the extension is a waste of money and will destroy rural landscapes and wildlife habitat and pollute aquatic resources.

Here's a link to a story about the Pellissippi Parkway extension published in February by Hellbender Press.

According to The Daily Times,  which reported the public hearings on April 19:

“'The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the department to look for alternate ways to engage and interact with the public,' TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi said in a video introducing the presentation, framed as a somewhat awkward-to-navigate virtual reality room.

It includes a history of the project, a right of way acquisition process overview, a project design summary and a comments and questions section. A digitally generated flyover video of the planned extension shows intricate details of how the road may look once completed. 

According to the TDOT website:

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) will host a Virtual Design public meeting from April 15, 2021, to April 29, 2021, to gather public input on the proposed project in Blount County on SR-162 Ext. (Pellissippi Parkway), from SR-33 to SR-73 (US-321).

The virtual meeting was opened to the public at 8:00 am EST on April 15, 2021 and will close at 10:00 pm EST on April 29, 2021. The website link is:

https://gather.cdmsmith.com/v/v8jkyAVO149.



The proposed highway would require the acquisition of private property and extend through the Wildwood and Sam Houston areas to an abrupt terminus with East Lamar Alexander Parkway to the west of Walland, which is host to an increasing number of high-dollar hospitality attractions such as Blackberry Farm.

Right-of-way acquisitions could start by the end of the year, according to The Daily Times.

To the east of the proposed parkway's end is Townsend, which bills itself as the Peaceful Side of the Smokies.

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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.  
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