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.)
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.
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