James White Parkway extension project stir debate

12:44 AM, Nov 12, 2012   |    comments
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In less than a month, TDOT will meet with the public to discuss the possible extension of the James White Parkway.

For more than a decade, both TDOT and the Federal Highway administration have been working on a "Environmental Impact Statement" to see whether extending the parkway would be safe. The draft version was approved by both agencies in September.

It found that if James White Parkway were extended from Moody Avenue to an area near the intersection of John Sevier Highway and Chapman Highway, more than 60 homes, and 120 acres of forest, would be impacted. The statement also said if no action were taken, traffic on the highway would increase, ultimately decreasing air quality in the area.

Read Document: Draft Environmental Impact Statement 

The 430-page statement looked at a variety of other social, economic, and ecological issues as well.

TDOT's public meeting over the document will be held December 6 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at South Doyle Middle School. TDOT said it will take the public's opinion into account before it decides on whether to extend the parkway or conduct another study.

Seymour resident Lynn Poarch said she supports extending the James White Parkway because congestion on Chapman Highway is too high.

"Normally, it is a long, irritating trip," she said.

But, not everyone approves of the idea. The Appalachian Mountain Bike Club said it could threaten South Knoxville's "Urban Wilderness Trail". A grand opening for that 35-mile trail system was held in August. Appalachian Mountain Bike Club President Brian Hann said if the parkway were to be extended, it would run straight through the trail.

"It's [South Knoxville's] just coming into it's own with a new identity," Hann said. "With Urban Wilderness, we're really looking forward to building on that."

Legacy Parks Executive Director Carol Evans agrees.

"We're really fortunate to have this urban wilderness right in the heart of our city and we think it's important to protect it and take full advantage of it," Evans said.

There are also concerns extending the parkway could further isolate businesses on Chapman Highway, already suffering from the closure of Henley Bridge.

Knoxville City Council Member Nick Pavlis said it is important that South Knoxville's "brand" be protected.

"The multi-use trails and the Urban Wilderness has branded South Knoxville," he said. "It's given people a reason to live, work and play there."

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