Fri
Dec 7 2012
12:23 am

There was huge turnout at tonight's TDOT public hearing on the James White Parkway extension draft Environmental Impact Statement, mostly in opposition to the project. When we turned into the South-Doyle Middle School parking lot, we were shocked to see it full. (We had to park in the grass on the side of the driveway). It turns out, though, there was a ball game scheduled at the same time. (As Stan G. notes in comments previously, no telling how many people left because they couldn't find parking.)

Approx. 500 people signed in, many more just showed up. We estimated approx. 700 people in the auditorium. It seemed like all of them signed up to speak. (Rachel says in comments that there were about 60.) We heard many but there were still about 15 more to go when we finally had to leave around 8:30, three and a half hours into the meeting.

The meeting started out with a TDOT overview presentation of the project, its history, and a summary of the DEIS findings with regard to traffic, environmental and social impacts, and other considerations of proposed routes v. the "no build" option. All of this information and more detail can be found in the DEIS report.

One of the more interesting points was that even if the JWP extension is built, there will be no projected improvement in traffic service levels on Chapman Highway. (See pg. 17 of the DEIS.)

This was followed by an introduction of public officials in attendance, who included Mayor Madeline Rogero, Vice-Mayor and City Councilman Nick Pavils and State Representative-Elect Gloria Johnson.

Mayor Rogero spoke first (raw video excerpt) and came out strong in support of the "no build" option, saying we need to study improvements to Chapman Highway as an alternative. She made an excellent point about not just going along with traffic projections and assumptions, saying that it was instead her job and the job of the community to "plan our future differently so that this (build) alternative is not needed."

Nick Pavils spoke next (raw video excerpt) in support of the "no build" option, emphasizing the negative impact of the build option on the community and local business. He said that "if we can send a man to the Moon we can make Chapman Highway safe."

Remarks by both Rogero and Pavlis were met with an overwhelming positive response from the audience. At that point I would have guessed that 70% to 80% of those in attendance were opposed, v. 20% to 30% in favor.

Later, though, we learned that approx. 50 to 75 members of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club, who have put in a lot of effort on the bike trails and Urban Wilderness project, were there in force to oppose the project. They were quite vocal, so the response was a little skewed. (There were also a number of outspoken project supporters who were quite rude in booing speakers and trying to shout down opponents.)

Following that was a Q&A and public comment session. By our count, there were eight speakers in favor of the build option, 25 against and 5 with no opinion or just asking questions. But we didn't hear them all. After three and a half hours, it appeared that most of the supporters had left and the remaining crowd was mostly opposed.

Those opposed to the project generally objected to the environmental and community impacts, the impacts on public parks, trails, and greenways, dislocation of homes and businesses, and the impact on their property values. One interesting point that came up involved the effect on property values of people who are near the right of way but not directly impacted. TDOT's answer was that only those who had their property taken would would be compensated, and tough luck for everyone else.

(Janice Tocher, president of the South Woodlawn Neighborhood Association, gave up her time to South-Doyle Middle School science teacher Dave Gorman, who said the project would disrupt an outdoor classroom they are building with a $30,000 grant they recently received from Dow Chemical.)

Proponents of the project were mostly concerned with traffic and safety improvements and convenient access to downtown and the interstate from outlying areas in the county and Seymour. There were also some concerns about traffic and safety on alternate routes such as Sevierville Pike if the JWP extension/bypass is not built.

TDOT will publish a summary of all the public comments, including those who spoke at the meeting, those who submitted written comments or had their comments recorded, and those who mail in comments. You have until January 4th to submit comments by mail. (Comment form here.)

More photos...
MP3 audio recording...
selected audio clips...

UPDATE: Notes from the meeting and summary of public comments:

Crash data, 2007 to 2012: 1,235 crashes on Chapman Highway, 7 fatalities, 39 incapacitating injuries, Two times greater than other like roads in Tennessee.

These numbers don't exactly match the chart in the DEIS. The chart shows 1,243 crashes from 2007-2009. Seven of the ten fatalities shown in the chart were not in the area to be affected by the JWP Extension. TDOT does love to use the shock factor though.

Roads Level of Service (LOS): TDOT says if the new JWP Extension is built the current LOS on Chapman Highway will not change.

TDOT said that No Build is considered in any TDOT project. Widening, improving the existing Chapman Highway is not an alternative. They may have meant as a part of this report/meeting.

TDOT produced the report with a Freeway design because of the wider ROW. It can be changed to a Parkway design with narrower ROW. The Freeway design just gives them more options.

At 6:07PM, the citizens voice, question/answer portion of the meeting began.

Proponents of extending the JWP included people who owned property on Sevierville Pike (3), Prospect Road (1), View Park Drive (1), Horseshoe Drive (1), Decatur Drive (1), and Kimberlin Heights Road (1). Several of these will be in the path of any new road.

Opponents included people who lived and/or owned property in the Island Home neighborhood (1), View Park Drive (1), Sevierville Pike (3), Chapman Highway, (1), South Knoxville (3), Lake Forest neighborhood (3), Redbud Road (1), Burnett Creek (1), and Allen Avenue (1).

Other opponents included an Ijams park rep, a West Knoxville resident born in South Knoxville, a Sierra Club rep, a South Doyle Middle School teacher, a Sevier County resident, an East Knoxville resident/grew up in South Knoxville, and West Knoxville residents (2),

The first speaker had questions about changes to Sevier Avenue where the original JWP had negative affects. How many years has it been and they are still trying to fix this area? TDOT said there are no plans for changes to Sevier Avenue at this time.

Bill Cox had some interesting information/thoughts/input. I wish he was against the JWP ext. He's a veteran, and said "Freedom is free, but it cost so much." He mentioned the lack of sidewalks on Chapman Highway. When he was done a large portion of the audience applauded. Don't know if they were applauding his position or the information.

Jesse L. proceeded to list all of the businesses on Chapman Highway that have closed from the Henley Bridge to John Sevier Highway. According to his count there are 61 vacant buildings in this 6-7 mile stretch of road.

Kevin P. said a new road will "kill the progress made in South Knoxville."

TDOT said it is very expensive to improve roads like Chapman Highway. They will continue to enhance the roadway.

Ronnie C. was concerned with a new road going through the middle of his property, a farm that has been in the family for over 100 years. The road will leave part of the property inaccessible. He voiced no opinion on build/no build.

Robin W., from Germany, thinks South Knoxville is the best part of Knoxville. Wants more roundabouts.

Molly G. requested TDOT redo the traffic patterns/counts from 2010. She believes the last 2 years negates that data.

Joe Hultquist says South Knoxville paid a heavy price for the 1.2 miles of the current JWP. He said, if the road is to be built it should not be built as a Freeway.

An unnamed lady reiterated Nick Pavlis' statement, "if we can go to the moon, we should be able to move traffic without damaging communities."

Donna S., a resident and native of Sevier County, compared the proposed JWP Extension to Veterans Parkway in Sevier County. She said no one realized how bad a huge road is. She also mentioned Veterans Parkway is not used a lot. Her family chooses to visit the Knoxville Urban Wilderness even though they live in beautiful Sevier County so close to the Smokies.

David W. is against the JWP ext. He is one of the 62 residents that will be displaced.

John Bohstedt, U.T. professor and Rhodes Scholar, said that making the community choose between build and no build options is blackmail. "Building highways doesn't get you anywhere." The Tennessee Department of Transportation needs to pursue alternative transportation.

Matthew M., compared this project to Atlanta's growth, whereas Knoxville should be looking at planned growth in Eugene, OR. He said, "This project grows T-shirt shops in Sevier County.

Chris M., a member of Appalachian Mountain Bike Group, asked the other 50-75 members attending the meeting to stand. He asked about trail systems on private property and how they will be handled. TDOT said public land has federal protection, private land has not protection but everything is considered, when they have knowledge.

Paul R., a resident on Sevierville Pike, is concerned with the growing traffic on the road. Says the road has deteriorated and can't handle the additional traffic.

David G. also mentioned alternative methods of transportation, mass transit.

Terry C. is against the JWP extension, but she mentioned that bike trails also displace, as did happen when the bike trails were built in Fort Dickerson park, i.e. animals were displaced. She asked TDOT about the 1964 prediction of 60,000 cars on Chapman Highway that never were realized. In 2002, TDOT again projected 60,000 cars would be traveling on Chapman Highway, again the traffic counts never reached those numbers.

Mona L. R., suggested they 4-lane John Sevier Highway from Chapman to I-40 and direct traffic that direction. She also mentioned the growing problem of displaced animal habitat. Someone cut down several/many (10 maybe) acres of treed land and now coyotes are moving into her backyard. She can't let her dogs out anymore. She asked TDOT about those homeowners not directly affected by a new road but are affected by lower property values. TDOT said there is no compensation for reduced property values.

Jeff C., an engineer and South Knox County business owner with 26 employees, wants good, safe roads to get people into/out of Seymour. He is for building the JWP extension.

91
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Rachel's picture

I doubt that the AMBC skewed

I doubt that the AMBC skewed the input much. Pretty much every neighborhood organization in south Knoxville is opposed, as is the south Knoxville business association, the Sierra Club, Legacy Parks, Ijams, the League of Women Voters, the KNS editorial board, many on City Council, Mayor Rogero, Vice-Mayor Pavlis, Mayor Burchett, County Commission Mike Brown, and heck - even Frank Cagle.

As one example of neighborhoods, IHP has been soliciting input from our members. We haven't heard from everyone in the 'hood by any means, but we've heard from a fair #, and there was one supporter, two on the fence, and the rest were not just no, but hell no.

Councilman Pavlis says his phone calls are running about 80-3 against this project.

TDOT probably could have sold the community on a parkway (a real parkway, not the interstate-like thing in the DEIS) 5 or 6 years ago. I'd say the supporters/opponents were about 60/40 then, and some of the opponents would have been won over with a true parkway. If TDOT had taken 2 years instead of 6 to redo the EIS, they would have had the chance to sell that. But they waited too long. Now, the community has bought into the Urban Wilderness as south Knoxville's future. Between that, the experience that Chapman Highway merchants have experienced during the bridge closure, and the change in demographics in south Knoxville as more younger people with families move in, the opponents now probably outnumber the supporters 70/30 or so.

I've yet to see support for this project now among the political and business leadership either. (And I'm curious - were there any Sevier County political leaders there tonight pushing it?). TDOT has no local champion for this project - at least that I can see.

They should just gracefully take this project off the books, concentrate on improvements to Chapman Highway, and build new roads elsewhere in the state where there is a real desire and need for them.

And yes, I've finally decided it's ok now for me to express a real opinion in public. SO glad.

R. Neal's picture

Sierra Club, LWV and Ijams

Sierra Club, LWV and Ijams representatives were also there to speak out against the project. The Mrs. took notes on all the speakers that I can't decipher, maybe she will summarize them for us in the coming days.

Rachel's picture

Our neighborhood board sent a

Our neighborhood board sent a written statement. With so many speakers, I'm guessing our president just turned it in.

bizgrrl's picture

Not that it is a bad thing

Not that it is a bad thing the AMBC skewed the research, but their numbers do skew it. Similar to the TDOT meeting for the Alcoa Parkway/Bypass where an asphalt/concrete company had all of their employees attend the meeting and turn in comment forms indicating they were for the Alcoa Parkway/Bypass. I'm just glad the AMBC members are against the JWP extension. However, Chris Martin bringing such attention to the numbers of AMBC members present at the meeting could lead proponents to get groups of people for the JWP Extension, for whatever reason, more involved.

R. Neal's picture

I doubt that the AMBC skewed

I doubt that the AMBC skewed the input much.

P.S. I meant skewed the audience applause meter at the meeting. Just to be clear, they have every right to provide their input just like anybody else, such as Seymour strip mall developers.

michael kaplan's picture

Those TDOT guys in Image 4

Those TDOT guys in Image 4 look like FBI - or members of the Soviet nomenklatura

bizgrrl's picture

The TDOT people to the left

The TDOT people to the left of the stage looked much more human. They are the technicians and looked much more interested in the attendees comments. Of course, they were the ones that had to answer questions, not the men in suits.

Stan G's picture

Curious

Since I was having a problem hearing and left after the third round of speakers, did any of the speakers in favor of the extension mention red, blue or green?

bizgrrl's picture

I don't recall any being in

I don't recall any being in favor of a particular route. The routes aren't that different until the Fordtown Road/Sevierville Pike intersection through to John Sevier Hwy. One person did question specifically the change from options years ago when the routes would have gone through the land now known as Marie Myers Park. The routes now go through his neighborhood, View Park. The gentleman was still for completing the James White Parkway.

R. Neal's picture

UPDATE: Notes from the

UPDATE: Notes from the meeting and a summary of some of the public comments added to original post, courtesy of the Mrs.

Average Guy's picture

TDOT M.O.

..,said that making the community choose between build and no build options is blackmail. "

+1

holler-dweller's picture

From the News Sentinel story,

From the News Sentinel story, you'd think the crowd tilted "for." Lame.

metulj's picture

I am sure McElroy and the

I am sure McElroy and the reporter were thoroughly lubed for that job.

cwg's picture

How so?

The KNS story states, "Opponents of the extension seemed to be in the majority as TDOT solicited public input on the project."

MB's picture

AMBC

I'm an AMBC member and also live in the path of the extension. We are an affected population and our vote should count.
One point that I thought could have been better expressed was the fact that lots of us are also heavily investing in this community. The figure Pavlis mentioned of 3 million dollars in real estate transfers due to the Urban Wilderness is real. Have you driven down Burnett Creek lately? It's in better shape than it has ever been in. One brave club member removed 52 dumpsters of trash and over 1000 tires from his recently acquired property. The bike club just adopted Burnett Creek and has cleaned up hundreds of bags of unimaginable garbage. The family that has been stealing and scrapping cars there for DECADES has been run off and their disgusting compound has been demolished and removed. The abandoned house serving as an illegal pharmacy is no longer in business and will hopefully soon be torn down.

My point is that, yes we ride bikes, but we are also good neighbors and it's about time for this community to have something to take pride in. It makes all the difference.

metulj's picture

Those are some of the premier

Those are some of the premier mtb trails going too. I was just asked about how accessible they were from downtown by a fellow rider here in Eastern NC. I gave him the skinny. He's planning a long weekend to just shred all day and drink cold beer all night in Knoxville simply because of the "Dirty South." His exact words: "So it's like Boulder?"

That's what you want to hear.

MB's picture

Also

Damn it, that was a long meeting.

zoomfactor17's picture

The bigger picture

It just astounds me that Tennessee places such a priority on building new roads, literally forcing them on people who don't want or need them, when everything else that actually benefits from public funding (e.g., education, health care) is continuously curtailed.

Did you know, for example, that there is a little-discussed piece of legislation (TCA § 54- 5-102) that mandates connecting EVERY TN county seat to the interstate system by a 4-lane DIVIDED HIGHWAY? It truly makes me sick to see the destruction of these little towns from these giant, empty roads slashing through them. It is nothing but a jobs program for road builders.

michael kaplan's picture

here's the law

a) The commissioner is given the power to proceed to designate main traveled roads, with a view to connecting all county seats, and also to designate other main traveled roads, that are deemed of sufficient importance to be included in the general highway plan of the state, and receive for their construction and improvement financial aid under this chapter and chapters 1 and 2 of this title.

(b) It is the intent of the general assembly that all county seats should be connected by a four-lane highway to the nearest interstate highway by the best route available.

rht's picture

history

is it true that TDOT's originally planned route would have tied into Chapman Hwy near the old walmart -- so, not going all the way out to John Sevier Hwy? If so, has TDOT given any rationale, other than being thwarted by Marie Myers park, for changing that and coming back with a longer and even more destructive proposal?

I'm not trying to incite -- just trying to understand. FWIW I'm totally for the no-build option.

rikki's picture

bats on deck

Their rationale is that the JWP Task Force asked them to extend the EIS study area all the way to John Sevier.

rht, were you able to find those dye-trace results you were looking for?

The most hopeful sign I saw from the TDOT side was that they have not yet surveyed for Indiana bats and said they will only do this if a build alternative is chosen as the preferred alternative. So someone is already angling to minimize study costs AND assuring that the DEIS can not be quickly rolled over into final form.

If No Build is chosen, the final EIS could be published as soon as spring and adopted by mid 2013. If a Build alternative is chosen, the bat study would have to be done, so the final EIS would not be ready for consideration until fall at the earliest, and it would be 2014 before any land acquisition and formal design work could begin.

cwg's picture

Your timeline is off. They

Your timeline is off. They said last night it would be "several months to a year" before any decision is made on whether to build or not.

rikki's picture

off by how much?

Your timeline is off. They said last night it would be "several months to a year" before any decision is made on whether to build or not.
I described two possible outcomes, one which could happen as quickly as several months, the other which would take a year or more. How my deliberately vague scenarios differ from TDOT's "several months to a year" is not clear. I am not trying to guess when decisions will be made, merely noticing that a no-build decision resolves itself sooner than a build decision.

This is the process: public comments until January 4; TDOT staff reads, compiles and summarizes comments; staff reports to TDOT decision makers. That is going to take several months.

From there the timelines diverge. A no-build decision is the end of the line. No more study needs to be done, the final draft can be published and adopted. A build decision means bat surveys.

Bat surveys can only be done during warm months. To do Indiana bat surveys in 2012, TDOT would need to hire a crew in early summer, if not sooner. That is an incentive to get the comment summarizing done quickly. Stall too long and they might have to wait until 2013 to mist-net bats.

White oak density and age diversity are strong correlates of Indiana bat presence, so you can assess bat habitat with knowledge of the area's trees. I can assure you any oak survey in that part of Knox County will reveal an abundance of white oaks. TDOT will not be able to weasel out of mist-netting bats because SoKno forests lack bat habitat.

Evidence indicating presence of an endangered species could arrive in the first net. Amassing enough data to suggest absence of one species of bat is another task entirely. The quickest resolution would be TDOT capturing an Indiana bat and declaring No Build the preferred alternative per Endangered Species laws. To really demonstrate that Indiana bats do not live in SoKno would require more than a single year's data.

If TDOT wants to build this road, a year is an optimistic timeline for approval, years being a more likely metric. If they prefer to discard the extension, they could do so at their next opportunity, which could be as soon as several months.

I apologize for belaboring this point. Claimed disagreements where it is not even clear what is being disputed are impossible to respond to except with silence or blather.

Rachel's picture

Well, yes. When the task

Well, yes. When the task force met 7 years ago, they gave TDOT several suggestions: 1) do an new EIS cause the old one was done in 1977 (TDOT did), 2) lose all the interchanges but Seiverville Pike (TDOT did), 3) go all the way to John Sevier because coming out on Chapman around Ye Olde Steak House made no sense in terms of safety OR congestion (TDOT did, although so much time has gone by, that now coming in at John Sevier is going to make a congestion mess around that intersections of JWP/John Sevier and John Sevier/Chapman. If they actually want to fix congestion, the JWP needs to end somewhere out close to Seymour), 4) build a parkway rather than an interstate-type highway (TDOT flatly rejected in the DEIS), and 5) use context-sensitive design (which the DEIS makes a few vague mentions of but is not specific about.)

The task force also issued a minority report in favor of the no-build option because while the majority of the task force favored building (under the conditions above), a signifcant minority did not.

As I said before, TDOT made enough requested changes that if they had come back to the community in 2008 instead of late 2012, they probably could have gotten support, especially if they agreed to a parkway.

Instead they took 6 years to do the EIS and things changed in that time. A lot.

(BTW, I have been opposed to completing the extension since I moved to sokno in 1997. The above is just my opinion.)

Rachel's picture

I have two questions if

I have two questions if anyone knows the answers:

1) Were there any local political leaders from Sevier County there last night pushing this thing.
2) TDOT say it will issuing a finding of "de minimum" impact on Hastie Park unless a local official objects. Is anyone going to do that?

Rachel's picture

SOunds like a lot of folks

SOunds like a lot of folks who planned to speak last night didn't (like the President of our 'hood). My guess is with so many signed up, they just handed their comments in to the court reporter instead. That will make the "anti" count go up.

Remember you can still comment to TDOT until 1/4. Their handout doesn't give an email address (duh!), but the website is (link...)

Maybe there's an email there. Otherwise, you have to mail in comments. Surely not, in 2012.

MB's picture

Comments must be mailed

From TDOT:
The web site has been updated with the comment card that can be downloaded to make a written statement to be mailed in after the Public Hearing on December 6th by January 4, 2013 or you may write to the following address:
Public Hearing Comments
ATTN: James White Parkway DEIS
Tennessee Department of Transportation
Suite 700, James K. Polk Building
505 Deaderick Street
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0332

A written statement must be submitted to become part of the official record. Emails will not become part of the official record. Thank you for your interest in the public involvement process for the Draft EIS for James White Parkway Extension.

Sincerely,
Dwight

Rachel's picture

I see all that on the comment

I see all that on the comment card. I'm lookig for a way to comment by email.

SURELY, in late 2012, TDOT provides that. Yes?

Robin09's picture

This happened as I left the meeting:

When leaving the meeting I talked to a man and a woman who left together. The guy told me that he is FOR building the extension. I asked him what his reasons are and if he is having difficulty with the current driving situation. His answer was "I just like to drive everywhere." I said "ok" and wished them a good night.
So, these fine folks left the parking lot right before me. They stopped at the VERY FIRST house when pulling out of the school parking lot and one person left the car. Ok, I thought the 2nd person may live further away. But what then happened... totally made my day: The car pulled into the driveway next door! WOW, THIS GUY SURELY LIKES TO DRIVE EVERYWHERE! Guess, he has a valid point and surely needs more paved roads (at best running through his front yard).... ;)

KNOXVILLE: Many maybe don't realize, YOU have something south of the river which makes you SPECIAL, VERY unique and distinguishable from other cities (this is not just a set of trails... I also mean the neighborhoods f.e.). Don't destroy it and just become like any other mid-size American city....

bizgrrl's picture

As a native of South

As a native of South Knoxville and someone who remembers the wonderful neighborhoods close-in prior to the first leg of the James White Parkway, it sure is nice to hear that more and more people are learning to appreciate South Knoxville. Please, keep up the good work. I'm sure in the long run that all of the long term residents appreciate your efforts.

jbr's picture

Urban jogging and traffic particulate

The more trees and less traffic the better.

NBC News

Researchers then gave the subjects a test to measure their response time and attention span. The findings: High levels of air pollution in the city prevented participants from gaining exercise-induced cognitive benefits such as brain plasticity (the ability for the brain to change when presented with new knowledge), comprehension, and mental health. The urban group also had significantly higher blood levels of some inflammation markers.

Urban jogging may be making you dumber

michael kaplan's picture

In the comments, no one

In the comments, no one mentioned the absurdity of having a greenway run next to a high-speed traffic artery. Or the fact that particulates (along with mid- and low-frequencies) are adept at creeping over sound walls. Just stand near the I-40 sound walls bordering 4th and Gill. Breathe deeply and enjoy the music ..

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