Right-of-way acquisition appraisals for SR 126 improvements begin

J. H. Osborne • May 26, 2019 at 7:30 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Transportation plans a meeting soon to begin right-of-way acquisition for the $90.1 million, 4-mile, five-segment project to improve State Route 126 (Memorial Boulevard) between East Center Street and just east of Cooks Valley Road (just past East Lawn Cemetery if headed from Kingsport toward Blountville).

TDOT representatives made a project status update presentation to the Sullivan County Commission earlier this month. They said appraisals of the more than 250 parcels touched by the project began this spring, property owners are being contacted by mail and notified of their rights, and a meeting to talk about right-of-way acquisition with property owners would likely take place the second week of June, perhaps at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium. 

The commission voted in December 2016 to accept TDOT’s proposal for the project. At that time, the long talked-about project was in the design phase. What the commission approved, basically, was a maintenance contract, agreeing that if if the project is built by TDOT, the county will provide maintenance for the portions outside the city. Kingsport will provide maintenance inside the city.

The project will widen and improve SR 126 and include bike lanes and sidewalks. 

In 2016, a TDOT spokesman said the project will touch 269 parcels of property, and the agency projected it would take three years to complete right-of-way of acquisition. That three years is beginning now, based on comments at the commission meeting earlier this month. The project will require the relocation of approximately 100 households and businesses.

Discussions about the need to improve the highway began about 30 years ago.

By 1992, TDOT had developed a feasibility plan, which recommended a basic concept widely used at the time: five lanes (four travel lanes with a center turn lane) all the way from East Center Street to Interstate 81.

That would have involved much more real estate, and that plan never gained much favor from anyone.

About 15 years ago, however, the project began to get more attention again as accidents increased and traffic volume reached 15,000 to 20,000 vehicles per day in some sections.

Eventually, TDOT formed a committee made of up local officials and members of the public living along the corridor and used the “context sensitive solution process” to study the impacts on the surrounding community, environment and properties.

That led to the overall stretch of roadway to be improved being split into phases.

What is moving forward now is the first phase, from East Center Street to Cooks Valley Road. Construction is projected to begin in 2022, depending on funding.

The preliminary plans are based on the Modified Alternative B route selected earlier in the planning process.

Its notable achievement: it does not take graves from East Lawn Cemetery or adversely affect the Yancey’s Tavern historic site across the road from the cemetery.

The route proposes four travel lanes from East Center Street to Harbor Chapel Road, three travel lanes from Harbor Chapel Road to Old Stage Road, and two travel lanes (with a continuous center turn lane) from Old Stage Road to Cooks Valley Road.

The entire four-mile section will include bicycle-friendly shoulders on both sides of the roadway, curbs and gutters.

Grass strips and sidewalks will be included along much of the route.

Opposite lanes of travel will be separated by either raised, grass medians; striped medians; or center turn lanes.

Multiple intersections will be eliminated by the closure of several side streets.

Some examples: Miller Street would become a cul de sac, reducing the current five-way intersection at SR 126, East Center Street, Warpath Drive and Miller Street to a four-way intersection; Orebank Road would be relocated and realigned so that its intersection with SR 126 would become a 90-degree angle (and nearby Edens Ridge Road would no longer intersect with SR 126); and Holiday Hills Road would become a cul de sac where it currently intersects with SR 126, with traffic flow directed to Shuler Drive via a newly created connector street.