GRAINGER COUNTY - A 10.5 mile stretch of Highway 11W from Rutledge to Bean Station is expanding from two lanes to five. The expansion will force hundreds of property owners to sell their land to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
"Where do I go from here?" was the first question homeowner Leona Grisham asked when she heard the news.
"Where we are standing right now will be highway," Grisham said as she stood outside her home.
Grisham is not alone. Elizabeth Grisham, a housing counselor with Clinch-Powell Resource Conservation and Development in Grainger County, says 300 property owners will be forced to sell.
"People are not happy about it. There hasn't been a lot of pushback. I think we're understanding that it's going to happen," said Elizabeth Grisham.
Elizabeth Grisham said the project has been talked about for a long time, and now she fears people aren't aware it's actually going to happen.
"We don't want families to wake up and realize 'oh gosh they're going to make offers next month and we have to move' and not be prepared," she said.
TDOT will buy land from the owners, but property owners still need to be prepared to sell.
"Some people have owned the property for years and maybe their credit is out of date or they have bad credit. We're trying to make sure people are ready to sell within the next few months," Elizabeth Grisham said.
TDOT can acquire land through its "right-of-way" division. Acquisition is set to start late this spring.
Mark Nagi, a spokesman for TDOT, said this project is important for safety in the area.
"We're looking at safety concerns in that area. By widening the roadway, it's going to be safer and more efficient. If you look at a map, you can see this road runs parallel to Interstate 81. We always try to make sure our secondary roads are as top quality as they can be," said Nagi.
Nagi said there are two separate projects that together equal a 10.5 mile stretch of Highway 11W from Rutledge to Bean Station. The first project will widen the highway from Helton Road to Rutledge. The second project will widen the highway from Helton Road to Bean Station.
"The section from Helton Road to Rutledge, we're looking at construction activities probably beginning in early 2019. The section from Helton Road to Bean Station you probably won't see construction begin there until early 2020," said Nagi.
Those dates are not finalized because the funding for this project isn't either.
"These projects are listed in Gov. Haslam's Improve Act. There are 962 projects statewide funded in the next 12-13 years through that act," said Nagi.
The bill is still making its way through the state legislature, meaning funding for the Highway 11W project is not finalized. The Senate Transportation Committee advanced the measure Monday. The House Transportation Committee opted to delay action on the bill Tuesday.
"If it is not approved, it would be much longer before you would see this projects construction activities take place," said Nagi.
Even though funding for construction is not final, the funding to buy property is. Nagi said it is possible TDOT could acquire all the property, but not be able to move forward with the construction phase.
"For this project to take place, the right-of-way has to happen at some point and as of now we do have funding in place," said Nagi.
If you live in the acquisition area and need help getting prepared, call Clinch-Powell Resource Conservation at 856-828-5927.
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