Wed
Jul 21 2010
10:25 am

TDOT held a public meeting to solicit public comment on the Pellissippi Parkway Extension Draft Environmental Impact Statement. This $100 million, five mile highway project has been in the works for years, and the subject of at least one lawsuit. Judging from the public response last night, there will likely be more.

We estimate approx. 400 attendees filled the Heritage High auditorium. Local government officials, including the Mayors of Maryville and Alcoa, the Alcoa City Manager, and several Blount County Commissioners were there, along with Blount County Mayor candidate Howard Kerr, who spoke out against the project. (We did not see Blount Co. Mayor Jerry Cunningham or Republican County Mayor candidate Ed Mitchell in attendance. Both have voiced support for the project.)

The Blount Chamber of Commerce was there in support of the project and handed out green stickers saying "YES" to the PPE. Nina Gregg of the Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway (CAPPE) was also there, handing out stickers saying "NO" to the PPE.

Judging from the stickers and audience response, the for v. against participants were split about evenly. CAPPE gave out approx. 200 "NO" stickers. Among the supporters were TDOT and local officials, developers, and real estate people. Among the opponents were farmers, affected property owners, concerned taxpayers, environmentalists, and advocates for controlled growth.

More than twenty people signed up to speak during the one hour and fifteen minute public comment session. Only one person spoke in support of the project. Opponents voiced concerns about the cost, the environmental impact, sprawl, destruction of farmland, and the degradation of Blount County's rural character and scenic vistas. Several opponents noted inconsistencies in TDOT's EIS regarding commercial development, economic impact, and traffic improvement estimates.

Nina Gregg of CAPPE made a very important point: All of TDOT's traffic flow and reduced congestion estimates are based on completion of the controversial "Southern Loop" and the Alcoa Highway Bypass, neither of which are part of the PPE project. She further noted that TDOT's own analysis shows the project will not relieve congestion, which is one of its goals. She concluded by appealing to elected officials to not support the project just because so much has already been spent on studies, saying the reason you spend money on studies is to avoid making expensive mistakes.

Another speaker, noting Blount County's air quality non-attainment status, asked why TDOT's report does not addressed the impact of increased emissions on ozone levels in the affected areas. The TDOT official who responded did not seem to know what ozone was or how it related to transportation, and offered to get back to the speaker.

The Mrs. noted that there were plenty of other infrastructure improvements needed, such as Sevierville Rd., and that Blount County already has problems managing the growth that is surely to come. She also noted that $100 million could be better spent on alternatives such as mass transit to reduce car travel and our dependence on oil.

Perhaps the highlight of the meeting came when speaker Tom Robinson asked TDOT project manager Mike Russell how much TDOT was going to pay Blount and Knox County for 50 acres of the newly built, taxpayer funded Pelissippi R&D park that would be required for the project. Russell said TDOT could not answer that question until they had completed the project design and gone through the right of way process. Robinson then asked the obvious question: "How can TDOT say the estimated cost is $100 million if you can't answer that question?" He concluded by saying that the "people with money in this county will fight this" and "we look forward to seeing you in court for a long time." Here's an audio recording of the exchange.

TDOT came to sell the project. Their handout summarizing the EIS was full of slanted, pro-completion propaganda. For example, the environmental impacts for the no-build option are that it will "not improve the regional transportation system, not provide travel options in the existing radial roadway network, not address roadway safety, not be consistent with local and regional plans, not address traffic congestion, etc." As noted by some of the speakers, many of these conclusions are contradicted by TDOT's own analysis.

It was great to see the citizens of Blount County come out in grassroots opposition to this ill-conceived project. They came ready with facts and logical arguments and kept the emotions to a minimum. But they were passionate about protecting their homes, farms, and community. It was inspiring, but also sad in a way, to watch these good, hardworking people fight for their community against a bunch of smug, condescending TDOT and local officials beholden to special interests and developers, who were seen in the audience rolling their eyes and laughing at some of the remarks.

The local establishment and usual suspect good ol' boys may think last night's meeting was just another dog and pony show on the road to a pre-determined conclusion. Judging from the determined opposition on display, they might be mistaken this time.

NOTE: TDOT is accepting public comments on the project by mail, which must be postmarked no later than Aug. 30, 2010. Send comments, including your name and address, to: Project Comments - Pellissippi Parkway Extension, Tennessee Department of Transportation, 505 Deadrick Street, Suite 700, James K. Polk Building, Nashville TN, 37243-0332.

RELATED:

Video: Jay Clark, a Rockford farmer, and Nina Gregg of CAPPE

Summary of CAPPE concerns

Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension

TDOT project page

TDOT Draft Environmental Impact Statement

Some photos from the meeting...

Report by Joel Davis at the Maryville Daily Times

Report by Lance Coleman at Blount Today

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bizgrrl's picture

Opponents voiced concerns

Opponents voiced concerns about the cost, the environmental impact, sprawl, destruction of farmland, and the degradation of Blount County's rural character and scenic vistas. Several opponents noted inconsistencies in TDOT's EIS regarding commercial development, economic impact, and traffic improvement estimates.

Yes, I was impressed with the tone of the meeting and the information voiced by the citizens opposed to the PPE. They were ready.

Rachel's picture

Kudos to Blount County

Kudos to Blount County citizens!

yellowdog's picture

great coverage!

Thanks for the excellent and accurate coverage and for the useful links.

michael kaplan's picture

thanks for the coverage of

yes, thanks for the coverage of this. TDOT certainly needs to be brought under control - for the sake of communities and the environment. all of those construction jobs should be dedicated to rebuilding the infrastructure we already have, and investing in alternative forms of transportation. has anyone questioned the gubernatorial candidates on the issue of endless road building?

this all reminds me of one of the very first initiatives of the haslam city administration in 2004 - to booster for SmartFix 40, the widening of the interstate as it crashes through downtown and the close-in historic neighborhoods, damaging the urban landscape and the environment. i attended most of the meetings and there was lots of concern about the project, with a large contingency of protestors. it was a 'done deal' though, as we suspected it would be.

if our elected officials are not going to worry about this ongoing 'project', then we need neighborhood and communities to do it. but as one south knoxville resident just said to me, "the bulldozers are already on the way."

yellowdog's picture

gov candidates

Blount County's pro-Pellissippi crowd can hardly wait for Haslam (or any of the other Repubs) to be governor as they believe it will be East Tennessee's turn for the highway money after being starved for the Bredesen years.

jbr's picture

Haslam and the Pellissippi Parkway extension

On other topics, Haslam thinks the Pellissippi Parkway extension should be built. "I actually think it should happen given where we are and what the traffic burdens are," he said.

(link...)

bizgrrl's picture

Haslam quote: Haslam also

Haslam quote:

Haslam also thinks that state revenues should be increased by growing the business base -- "I don't think we should ever have an income tax," he said -- and that the highway funding mechanism, currently through a gasoline tax, needs to be reformed.

Increase business by building more roads to enable more business? Gasoline tax reform?

Heh.

Rachel's picture

He said that "the highway

He said that "the highway funding mechanism... needs to be reformed." That could mean a lot of things - some good, some bad.

yellowdog's picture

Can Haslam learn?

The citation about Haslam and the PPE is from 2009. I have no reason to think he has changed his mind, but he did meet with the board of Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension since then and listened to their arguments. He said then that he had learned some things he did not know about the project, including that the projected time savings provided by the extension is quite small.

Some people who know and work with him say he is interested in facts and data. If so, he might find it hard to swallow the DEIS as showing that the project should proceed.

I doubt that his GOP opponents would be interested in facts and data even a little bit.

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