Knox Co. Mayor Tim Burchett may support JWP extension

6:28 PM, Aug 2, 2013   |    comments
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(WBIR - Knoxville) Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett says he could support a plan to extend South Knoxville's James White Parkway, a state project he was against earlier this year.

The design, which would add another five miles to the four-lane, divided South Knoxville highway, is expected to cost more than $105 million. When finished, the new work would extend from its current terminus at Moody Avenue to Governor John Sevier Highway.

Burchett says his change of heart came after meeting with Tennessee Department of Transportation officials earlier this summer.

"I'm a little more confident in the state's role," he told 10News Friday. "I think we'll eventually come up with a plan that will make everyone a little uncomfortable, but in the end it will probably be the best thing for the community."

Others, though, aren't so sure.

For example, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, who declined to comment Friday to 10News, has not supported the plan. She and a large part of the public have argued that it would ruin the outdoor recreational identity South Knoxville wants to build and further hurt the area's struggling merchants.

Opponents to the plan have also said the extension would devastate the William Hastie Natural Area and interfere with some of South Knoxville's most scenic ridges.

"I think the park extension really totally up-ends and disrupts the whole 'urban wilderness' initiative in South Knoxville," said Legacy Parks Foundation Director Carol Evans.

A TDOT spokesman says the department will announce its plans in the next three weeks.

Burchett's concern is tied to its impact on homeowners, particularly if the state uses emminent domain, in which the state uses its power to take over private property for public use.

"If it's something that I don't like, I'm going to be against it. I don't care what Nashville says," said Burchett.

But he also believes the construction could benefit an economically-struggling area.

"It could relieve traffic of course, and I think it would provide some economic relief for some of the businesses to put more cars through here," said Burchett.

Plan supporters, including TDOT officials, also have said it will help alleviate the current traffic congestion and some safety concerns on Chapman, the area's local north-south thoroughfare that runs just west of the parkway.

For years, officials and residents have debated the project, and there are currently four possible options on the table.

Three proposals would connect the parkway from Moody - where it now ends - to Gov. John Sevier Highway. They would vary in length from 4.7 miles to 5.2 miles and potentially impact between 62 to 65 homes and two to five businesses.

A fourth proposal would simply scrap the project in favor of improvements along Chapman Highway, like turning lanes and new intersections.

The discussions picked up steam last December when a standing-room crowd of 600 packed the auditorium of South Doyle Middle School to provide input on the matter. A majority of those who attended appeared to support nixing the plan altogether, but not before TDOT officials issued some striking numbers.

Transportation representatives argued that Chapman Highway isn't built to accommodate current and future traffic volume. They projected that without the extension, the 36,000 cars currently traveling the Chapman stretch daily will balloon to 58,000 within a few decades.

Crash data also supports the need for intervention, according to TDOT. There have been more than 1,235 crashes along the section of Chapman Highway between Gov. John Sevier Highway and the Henley Street Bridge during the past five years.

That's double the crash rate for comparable state roads, TDOT officials said.

TDOT received about 1,000 responses during the comment period, which started during the Dec. 6 public meeting and ended Jan 4. TDOT Spokesman Mark Nagi said they were almost evenly divided.  



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