Seymour Alternatives: Look Beyond the Outdated Parkway Extension for Better Solutions

Assume the governor (and his minions) listens to the people regarding James White Parkway and chooses the No Build alternative. What then?

Chapman Highway needs to be made safer, Seymour commuters need a better route to and from Knoxville, and the dead end on the existing road needs to be repurposed. When JWP was built three decades ago, Moody Ave was raised onto an overpass. The highway stops under that bridge, a forlorn stub facing forest. Police park there occasionally. Mayor Ashe held press conferences on the unused pavement when last TDOT brought the highway extension up for consideration.

Ashe and the City were able to delay the decision. He established Marie Myers Park smack dab on the route the extension would have taken to a proposed terminus on Chapman Highway near the old Walmart. The City established William Hastie Natural Area as well, TDOT's new route jogs awkwardly between the two parks. State decision makers should catch the hint: Opponents of this highway extension are determined and numerous.

To be sure this obsolete project goes away for good, we need a better use for JWP's dead end, but what good is land at the end of a highway, bordered by an overpass and highway ramps?

For retail or recreational uses, serious traffic engineering would be required to slow people down from highway speeds to parking lot speeds, but I can think of one use where being positioned at the end of a highway would be an advantage: first-responder dispatch center. Ambulances, police and fire chiefs parked there could quickly arrive at locations in South Knoxville, East Knoxville, downtown and throughout the city. The location is already fortified, so achieving the level of security emergency-response centers should have would be cheaper and easier there.

Such a facility could conceivably be combined with the safety center concepts the sheriff and district attorney say Knox County needs to better serve mentally ill and non-violent offenders in the criminal justice system. Siting the safety center there would reduce land-acquisition costs and headaches.

Whatever is done with the acreage, it will not make Chapman Highway safer nor get people to Seymour faster. Both those goals are best served by stepping back to the drawing board to sketch out new solutions.

Chapman is dangerous not so much from congestion but design flaws. Where shoulders or retaining walls would keep minor mishaps minor, Chapman has steep embankments and ditches that can be lethal. Side streets like Red Bud feed traffic from a stop sign onto a slope, making merging a challenge for weaker cars and drivers.

Several curves in Knox and Sevier counties catch speeders each year simply by being too sharp to negotiate at 70 mph. Diverting Seymour and Sevierville traffic off Chapman Highway will reduce accidents, but fixing Chapman's danger zones would do more to reduce the death toll. Both counties have been working on improvements, but more needs to be done to bring the road up to par with its use.

To give Seymour commuters an alternative to Chapman without taking 60-some homes and deforesting so much land, forget the South Knoxville Bridge. Instead, Seymour traffic should stay north of the river and cross the Holston to John Sevier Highway either at Boyd's Bridge or on Asheville Highway, or conceivably across a new bridge alongside the rail bridge at the mouth of the Holston. That would route traffic through industrial land rather than through neighborhoods and forests.

The interchange between John Sevier and Chapman also needs to be improved. Upgrading the last segment of Kimberlin Heights Rd into a connector between the highways would accomplish that quite effectively, routing through a commercial zone that would gain value from added traffic. An east-then-south approach to Seymour integrates into community rather than bulldozing it away.

Roads south of the city need a lot of little fixes, not a big fix. Choosing the No Build alternative opens the door for better solutions.