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TDOT agrees to drop JWP, worries about Chapman Hwy. safety

5:54 PM, Aug 28, 2013   |    comments
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(WBIR - Knoxville) The Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) unanimously voted on Wednesday morning to remove the James White Parkway extension from its Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

It's a move officials say pretty much kills plans to extend the South Knoxville highway.

The proposed plan would have extended James White Parkway to Gov. John Sevier Highway and reduced congestion on Chapman Highway.

However, several possible routes would have cut through South Knoxville's Urban Wilderness.

Last week, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) released a new green alternative route for the proposed extension.

"In my opinion, the two can't co-exist. You can't have a four-lane highway and then everything that we're trying to do here to provide a pristine 1,100 acres now of land," said Nick Pavlis, vice mayor and city councilman for the First District.

City of Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero has been vocal about her opposition to the extension.

"We see the Urban Wilderness as an economic strategy, as a tourism strategy, and as a quality of life strategy that will have major pay backs for our community and our region for many years to come," Mayor Rogero said.

But Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) called the vote "shortsighted" and said, "There will come a time when they will wish they would have completed it."

TPO Coordinator Jeff Welch said the board plans on focusing on other projects, like improvements to highways: Alcoa, Gov. John Sevier, and Chapman.

"If they're not going to focus on that they sure need to focus on the safety issue on Chapman Highway. I'd also like to see something done with Oak Ridge Highway. They've been promising those folks that was going to be improved since World War II," said Tim Burchett, Knox County mayor.

The plan at the time was to host a series of public meetings in October to get comments on the proposal before making any decisions about the extension.

Wednesday morning, though, officials told the TPO, which is an advisory board, that if it removed the overall plan, then they would respect the move.

TDOT Commissioner John Schroer released the following statement:

Today's action by the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization effectively stops work on the James White Parkway Extension Project. Until today, TDOT continued work on the project because it was included in the Knoxville TPO's Transportation Improvement Program. The project was developed in part to address safety and congestion issues along Chapman Highway. We remain concerned that our efforts to improve conditions along Chapman Highway will not be sufficient now, and particularly in the future. TDOT will not build projects that aren't supported by communities and our local partners.

Today, we received a clear statement by the current members of the Knoxville TPO that they do not wish to see the project progress. We will no longer commit any further resources to this project.

Welch said it is not official just yet.

TPO will have a formal public review and hearing on the TIP, which covers projects from 2014-2017.

A final vote will take place in October.

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