The state is once again thinking about a new road between Knoxville and Seymour to relieve congestion on Chapman Highway. People die each year on that road, and as long as that is true, transportation planners will keep returning to the South Knoxville Boulevard project.
A prime danger zone on Chapman is the hill ascending after Stone Road toward Colonial Village. Numerous residential streets enter the highway there. The steepness is too much for some cars, but other drivers put the pedal down to keep their speed. The mix of slow and fast causes dangerous situations. Add in residents entering and exiting the road, and too often that danger translates to real harm.
Widening Chapman is not feasible because the road runs through the rocky core of an ancient Appalachian ridge at that point. The rubble barely supports the existing four lanes. Getting from South Knoxville to Seymour requires crossing several worn ridges no matter what route you choose, and the proposed James White Parkway extension must confront those same ridges. The existing highway ends where it does because of a ridge. To reach John Sevier Highway, it must also cross Brown Mountain.
Between those two ridges are the highest quality woodlands in Knox County, largely free of the privet and honeysuckle that chokes diversity out of most county woodlands. Birds and wildflowers you must normally travel to the mountains to find live in those forests. Beautiful springs produce thousands of gallons of clean water each day.
Numerous private parcels will need to be purchased in whole or in part to build the proposed extension, and where real-estate speculators have not already purchased options, eminent domain could be needed. Peaceful neighborhoods will be forever altered.
Fortunately there is a way to avoid the human and ecological degradation, and that is why I have asked TDOT to include an additional alternate route in the environmental study they plan to undertake. This route brings the road through an area already heavily impacted by industry. It runs near old marble quarries and airports and factories instead of through forests.
I suggest TDOT connect Knoxville to John Sevier Highway the same way the railroads chose, up the north bank of the river into Marbledale. This serves Seymour and South Knox County just as efficiently, so it will take the same amount of traffic off Chapman Highway as the five routes in the study. It also gives East Knox County drivers a way to avoid the interstate. The river provides a natural grade, so the road should be cheaper to build and support higher speeds than routes climbing up and over two ridges. It may be possible for the road to share the rail right-of-way along some segments, either straddling the tracks or elevated above them, minimizing property acquisitions.
The only advantage to the other routes is they start where TDOT quit when they built the South Knoxville Bridge. That project was ill-conceived and fractured communities and the road grid, and we need not throw good money after that bad idea. The existing highway needs to be downgraded and retrofitted to cooperate with residential roads. It is vastly overbuilt, but that means it will be easy to add bike lanes, commercial strips and pedestrian access after TDOT opts for the better route to Seymour.
The existing terminus of the highway would make an outstanding location for emergency services. It is bunker-like for security, and emergency vehicles could be rapidly dispatched to downtown, campus, and surrounding neighborhoods. An emergency room there could service the same broad area. Such a facility would bring jobs to South Knoxville, and commercial growth would follow.
The underbuilt commercial and industrial corridor on John Sevier Highway through Marbledale would also grow if this route is chosen. It is a superior route in every way, and if you think as I do that TDOT should consider it, please write them (e-mail: TDOT (dot) Comments (at) state (dot) tn (dot) us) before March 10 and tell them you support adding the Rail Alternate to the South Knoxville Boulevard EIS.