(WBIR-Knoxville) In an effort to answer some environmental concerns, TDOT has presented an alternative route for the proposed James White Parkway extension. However, the department's latest idea is still dividing residents in Knox and Sevier counties.
The proposed road would extend James White Parkway to Governor John Sevier Highway. Officials say it would reduce congestion and improve safety on Chapman Highway, and provide a quicker route between downtown Knoxville and Seymour and Sevier County.
TDOT presented a "Modified Green Alternative" on Monday. In a release, TDOT says it "further minimizes impacts to the Urban Wilderness, reduces residential and business relocations, and reduces the total amount of Right of Way needed to build the project.
TDOT says they will not make a decision regarding the JWP extension until they've heard public comments about this new alternative.
"The Modified Green Alternative has a boulevard design, which reduces the footprint of the project and the impacts to the Urban Wilderness, which was one of the primary concerns we heard during the public comment period," said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer. "This proposal not only minimizes the impacts to trails, but also provides an opportunity to connect some of Knoxville's bicycle and pedestrian facilities while also still fulfilling the initial purpose and need of the project."
TDOT is planning to hold two community meetings in early October to share the details of the "Modified Green Alternative" and allow the public to submit comments. Specific details of those meetings will be announced soon.
A conceptual rendering of the "Modified Green Alternative" can also be seen here.
Critics worry about the roadways impact on South Knoxville's Urban Wilderness. Some businesses are concerned that the bypass would take traffic and sales away from the area.
"We've tracked millions of dollars in property transfers directly related to living near trails, parks, [and] urban wilderness," said Brian Hann, president of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club.
His group, along with Legacy Parks, helped to construct the Urban Wilderness. Both Hann, and Legacy Parks Executive Director Carol Evans, said they were grateful TDOT had extended its public comment period.
However, each said they still disapproved of the latest proposal.
"The Urban Wilderness is more than a trail, so you might have moved the road off of a trail, but you're still impacting the neighborhoods, the businesses, the residents, [and] the whole urban wilderness system," Evans said.
Some property owners in View Park say their concerned about the latest alternative plan as well. The route would cut their South Knoxville community in two. It would also destroy the Beard's house.
"It'd be a shame to put it through here," said View Park property owner Caron Beard.
But, not everyone is opposed to an extension. In Sevier County, residents like Larry Pollard, support TDOT's plan.
"It's bumper to bumper and it used to have the nickname "Chapman Die-Way" because of all the accidents," he said.
According to TDOT, several years ago, an independent city task force recommended the state extend the parkway as "simply a means to move traffic" in the Chapman Highway area. The department said the task force felt that would help significantly reduce crash rates on Chapman Highway in the future.
TDOT also says approximately 70 percent of the traffic that is currently traveling northbound on Chapman Highway crossing the Henley Bridge is seeking interstate access. It says, currently, Chapman Highway is the primary north-south multi-lane corridor available for motorists traveling to and from southern Knox County, the Seymour portion of Sevier County, and northeast Blount County.
10News talked to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett about the latest plan. He said he was hopeful the impacted parties could find a medium.
"I've said all along, have input from everybody in there," he said. "Find if there's some agreement there. From the landowners who are going to be impacted directly by the road to the City of Knoxville and the folks that ride the bicycles and the state and us. If there's some sort of agreement there, of course we would support it."
In a release, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said she still opposes the JWP extension. She released the following:
"I appreciate that Commissioner Schroer has extended the comment period regarding the James White Parkway extension in order to hear from the public about a modified parkway design vs. the no-build option. A parkway with lanes for biking and walking is definitely preferable to an interstate design, and I appreciate TDOT's willingness to make those design alterations in response to local concerns.
However I remain firmly opposed to any extension of the James White Parkway through our growing urban wilderness area. The Urban Wilderness has already achieved national recognition as an outdoor recreation destination and is a key economic development and tourism opportunity for our city, region and state. The proposed parkway will bisect this regional asset and plow through the existing and proposed trail network and wilderness assets. It will divert traffic from Chapman Highway businesses.
I support major safety improvements and enhancements to Chapman Highway, Alcoa Highway, and other existing roads and highways that serve our region. We should work together regionally to create the future we want through smarter development and transportation patterns, rather than destroy this wonderful economic and environmental asset on the basis of projected future traffic needs.
I strongly encourage everyone to study the alternatives; to think of our future as a city, county, and region; and to respectfully and unambiguously express their opinions during the input period."