Do the Right Thing

Connecting Mascot to Midway is a win for everybody

Knox County has spent millions of dollars on Eastbridge Industrial Park. It sits on Mine Road in Mascot with hundreds of acres of expensive graded land still empty. It is considered too far from the interstate to be successful. It sits in an area with 2,600 acres of idle land already zoned industrial, with water, sewer and a railroad line.

Meanwhile, the county has purchased land off the Midway Road exit on Interstate 40 in east Knox County that the neighbors hate; it’s been tied up in court, it violates the sector plan, and no tenants have shown up anyway.

Knox County has a chance to get rid of its Midway Road problem, salvage Eastbridge, create jobs, and do the right thing.

Norfolk Southern wants to build an inter-modal facility, where cranes will take up to 300,000 tractor trailers a year and put them on railroad cars for shipment across country. They propose to put the facility in New Market, on 1,300 acres of farm land because it’s cheaper than locating it on an existing industrial site, as in Morristown or near Eastbridge in Mascot.

But there is one cost factor that has not been considered. Though the land is cheaper in New Market, it is 12 miles from the Asheville Highway exit of I-40 and it’s even further going the other direction through Jefferson City out Highway 92 to I-40. That’s 300,000 trucks a year going through Jefferson City or going down Asheville Highway to East Knoxville.

It is four miles from the Midway Road exit to Mascot. A four lane industrial access road can be constructed by the state so that trucks can get from Mascot to the interstate without ever passing a mailbox. The state can have the road constructed by the time the inter-modal facility is ready.

The hundreds of acres of brownfield industrial sites in Mascot around Eastbridge could then be exploited. The access problem would be solved. The infrastructure is already there, paid for by Knox County. It saves greenfields. It turns a blighted industrial area into something productive. The county starts to recoup some of the millions it has spent on the location.

This would require the Knox Area Chamber Partnership, the Development Corp., and Knoxville’s political leaders to step up. They know industrial development in East Knox County has been handled badly, money has been wasted, and no jobs have been created. This is a chance to salvage the whole mess. Go see Gov. Phil Bredesen and Economic Development Commissioner Matt Kisber and do the deal.

The prospective road changes the financial equation for Norfolk Southern. It makes the Mascot location more financially feasible and it solves the problem of getting the trucks to and from the interstate to its inter-modal facility.

At a community meeting in New Market on Saturday, 176 angry voters signed up on a contact list and took information to stop the inter-modal facility in their neighborhood. Full disclosure: I live half way between the New Market site and the Mascot site, so it’s a wash for me. But given a choice between developing brownfields and developing greenfields, it’s no contest.

The railroad will only listen to dollars and cents. They have to be convinced Mascot is a better deal. I know my neighbors. They will fight Norfolk Southern in court for years and to the last man, woman, and child. They will fight for their tomato fields, their chicken farms, and their dairies. They don’t understand the logic of losing 50 agriculture jobs and millions in agriculture revenue to provide jobs for 12 Norfolk Southern crane operators.

At the meeting Saturday not one person made any statement opposing an inter-modal facility. Everyone wants it in the region, everyone sees it as an environmental plus and an economic boost to jobs in Morristown and Knoxville where their children might get a job. But they cannot understand raping the environment in New Market for an environmental stimulus project to get trucks off the road.

Come on, Knoxville. Focus on something besides courthouse scandals for once and do something for East Knox County and Knox County taxpayers. Here’s a chance for somebody to be a hero.

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Comments » 6

BobWolfenbarger writes:

Frank,
Your analysis of the situation sounds like an ad by TDOT for the Tennessee Road Builders Association.
Rather than consuming hundreds of acres of additional green fields to build just the new interstate highway, instead of promoting more urban sprawl throughout rural Jefferson and Knox Counties and if the inter modal transfer station is really about efficiency, reducing the impact of truck traffic on the existing highways and the environment, having direct access to the interstate system and doing the right thing; WHY NOT JUST BUILD THE INTER MODAL TRANFER STATION AT ONE OF THE CURRENTLY EXISTING INTERSECTIONS OF THE INTERSTATE SYSTEM AND THE RAIL LINE?
Bob Wolfenbarger

Im_a_hick writes:

Bob,

Good question! Best answer anyone has been able to get so far is they're looking for a certain distance of straight track on fairly level land. It's too expensive to use places they've already "industrialized" and abandoned that meets that criteria because it's brownfield, and it's too expensive to use existing but never occupied industrial parks because they'd have to straighten the track a bit. I'm still working on the fact that adding a couple million (at absolute worst to an overall project they're spending billions on is unacceptable, but getting Jefferson County and the state to spend $23 million just on site work plus the cost of a new highway just to serve the trucks is okay.

There's another meeting this Thursday at 5 pm at the Jefferson County Middle School. The mayor of Jefferson County scehduled it so Norfolk Southern could do a presentation and answer questions. Not sure how many questions will get anything more that a "we can't discuss that because of the confidentiality agreement" answer, but maybe I'm just being cynical.

BobWolfenbarger writes:

Frank,
NS has two multi track intersections (North to South with East to West) that also co-intersect with the existing interstate systems in both eastern Hamblen County and also in eastern Loudon County.
The eastern Loudon County site would appear to be the better geographic location. Loudon County is more central to the region and adjacent to East/West I-40 and North/South I-75.
http://www.tdot.state.tn.us/publictra...
Bob

powert writes:

Frank,

First, there isn't anywhere close to 2600 acres in the
Eastbridge area that would even come close to working.
Maybe 500 at best. As for it being a brownfield, it is
green farmland just like in New Market. There are two 100
acre tracks with riverfront across Clear Springs road from
it both for sale in the $4,000,000 each range. Not exactly
priced for railroad tracks. The land around Eastbridge
other than the riverfront is either very steep (definitely
not railroad friendly) or a working quarry, already
employing more people than the railroad would.

As for your closer to the interstate argument, it is
slightly closer to Midway Road from Mascot than it is from
New Market to 1-40. However, it is 9.6 miles of mostly
narrow, twisting two lane road from Mascot to Midway, but is
all four-lane highway from New Market to I-40 with an
estimated travel time (at the speed limit) of 35% less. The
New Market route also brings trucks in much closer to the I-
81/I-40 split to get them headed up the east coast. The new
road you propose (Where you get 4 miles from Mascot to
Midway is beyond me as well, as it is 7 as a crow flies)
would be a real challenge to build as a new bridge would
have to be constructed and there are bluffs along the river
on one side and not on the other which would create an
additional problem. It also would have to destroy several
eagles nests residing on the bluffs.

I am against building in New Market, but Mascot just makes
no sense and is probably not even feasible when you look at
a map correctly.

What would make sense is for them to look at the area around
their existing John Sevier freight yard. It is near the
interstate at I-40 and Rutledge Pike, which already has
industrial land on both sides along that stretch. Loudon
County, close to the I-75/I-40 split, would probably be
better than any of these, but John Sevier would be the only
location that could utilize existing brownfield.

stushie writes:

Frank, they never did this for Philips TV years ago who were
then just coming out with the DVD system. All of those jobs
went to Atlanta. Why would they be willing to change now?

tbob writes:

While this would take 300,000 trucks off of the road crossing the country, it
would bring 300,000 into a county that the American Red Cross gives and F for
ozone and particle polution. Just last week we had 3 or 4 high pollution days.
Doesn't seem like a good trade from where I live- 3 miles from the interchange
that would dump hundreds of thousands of tons of pollution at my doorstep. No
thanks.
Tim Robinson

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