The Tennessee Department of Transportation issued a rare press release Wednesday stating the Transportation Planning Report for Corridor K through Polk County is available for public review on the Tennessee Department of Transportation website.
The 206-page document prepared by San Francisco-based URS Corporation was approved in late May. TDOT Region 2 Community Relations Officer Jennifer Flynn said the agency does not normally issue press releases when transportation planning reports are completed, but did so in this case because of the corridor’s importance to Southeast Tennessee.
The next step for TDOT is to begin working with state and federal agency teams through the Tennessee Environmental Streamlining Agreement to develop the NEPA document. During this process, there will be many opportunities for public involvement.
The TPR discusses impacts that are currently known or suspected. Other potential impacts may be discovered upon more detailed studies performed as part of the National Environmental Policy Act phase.
“I want to echo the Commissioner’s appreciation for all the time and effort that the Citizens Resource Team has put into the planning process for Corridor K so far,” said TDOT Corridor K project manager Wes Hughen. “It has been my pleasure to work closely with the team throughout this process, and I anticipate we will experience the same productive working relationship during the environmental phase.”
Denny Mobbs is a member of the 15-member Citizens Resource Team of local residents, business owners and representatives from a variety of outdoor, environmental, conservation and recreation interests established in February 2009.
He said the report is the result of much hard work and effort from private citizens and local, regional, state and federal agencies since the study process began in December 2008.
He said the TPR addresses the immediate and long-term needs for the proposed Corridor K from west of the Ocoee River to SR-68 near Ducktown in Polk County and is part of TDOT’s overall planning process.
According to the press release, the report assesses how 10 options fulfill the purpose and need of the project and also documents the planning process that has been implemented for the proposed Corridor K.
The options range from spot improvements on the existing roadway to all new construction north and south of the gorge.
Many spot improvements were made to U.S. 64 while the main east-west corridor was closed to clean up a massive rock slide on Nov. 10, 2009. The Polk County Chamber of Commerce sponsored a celebration when U.S. 64 was reopened April 16.
Flynn said she believes the Corridor K project has gained more support because of the rock slide.
“What many people don’t realize is the original proposal is off the table. It’s dead,” she said.
After many years of discussion and study on Corridor K, it was determined in 2005 the original alignment was too expensive and too intrusive to the environment, so no further action was taken on the project for more than two years.
In 2007 the Southeast Tennessee Rural Planning Organization voted the Corridor K project as their number one priority. As a result of the RPOs endorsement, the Southeast Industrial Development Association retained Wilbur Smith Associates to conduct an economic development study of the Corridor K region. The 2008 Corridor K Economic Development and Transportation Study concluded there is an immediate and long-term economic development need for an improved east-west transportation corridor in the project region.
Based on the results of the economic development study, TDOT decided to take an entirely fresh look at the project. Through the utilization of context sensitive principles, including the formation of the Citizens Resource Team, TDOT has been able to better assess the Corridor K options that best fulfill the project’s various needs, such as enhanced safety and economic development while closely considering environmental impacts and concerns of area citizens.
As part of the TPR, several options were evaluated. Of these, two options are based on improvements to the existing U.S.-64, three options are on new alignment to the north of the Ocoee River, two options are on new alignment to the south of the Ocoee River. Also studied are two options that combine new location corridors to the north in combination with improvements to the existing U.S.-64 route.
“I want to thank the Corridor K Citizens Resource Team for their hard work and dedication in helping us move forward with this important project,” TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely said, “We look forward to working with them in the future as we select a preferred alternate for Corridor K.”
For further information on Corridor K or other TDOT projects, visit www.tdot.state.tn.us/projects/default.htm.
The entire 2008 Corridor K Economic and Development Study by Wilbur Smith Associates is online at www.tdot.state.tn.us/corridork/library/FinalReport.pdf.