Sullivan Commission to have called meeting to review TDOT input on road to new school

J. H. Osborne • Updated Jun 19, 2018 at 9:35 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — No one at the Sullivan County Commission meeting on Monday seemed surprised when Commissioner Sherry Grubb again asked to defer action on a resolution to get the ball rolling on construction of a new road to provide a more direct route to the new West Ridge High School, projected to open on Lynn Road in about two years off Interstate 81’s Exit 63.

County Mayor Richard Venable said the issue warrants its very own meeting, especially now that he’s started to receive input on the project from the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Venable asked TDOT earlier this month to provide some concept designs for potential routes from Highway 357 (the road west of the Exit 63 interchange) to the school’s site.

Venable shared the information he has already received from TDOT with commissioners during the commission’s monthly meeting and said he will arrange a special called meeting to discuss the issue sometime soon, possibly next week.

Highway Commissioner Jim Belgeri, who leaves office at the end of August, first tackled the issue of getting a new road to the new school more than a year ago, and Grubb’s resolution has been on the commission’s monthly agenda for several months. An earlier called meeting to talk about the road was cancelled. And another brought county and school officials together to play the blame game and hot potato. Each side pointed fingers at the other for allowing the school to get this far — land selected and purchased, bonds issued to fund its construction, and site preparation underway — without a solid plan for making the site easier, and safer, to access.

A secondary argument: Which section of the taxpayers’ pocketbook should fund the road — the county general fund, the highway fund, the school department’s general fund or some combination of those accounts?

An email from TDOT to Venable, obtained by the Times News as public information, includes the following:

• “In reviewing the existing roadways and options for the new roadways we found ... using the existing roadways Browder to Lynn is not recommended due to the existing roadway widths along with horizontal and vertical curves.”

• “The use of Shipley to Lynn Roadway is adequate based on roadway geometry, however some traffic issues may arise especially at key turns from SR-357 to Shipley Ferry ramps. In the morning there would likely be problems with an uncontrolled left turn from SR-357 onto Shipley Ferry and this may result in queuing onto SR-357. In the afternoon additional issues may result in the opposite direction as traffic attempts to reenter SR-357 from Shipley Ferry.”

• “There are basically (two) options that we identified for consideration for New Roadway Construction, it should be noted that Option 1 is similar to Route C which was developed by (Belgeri)”.

•  TDOT has met with Waste Management and with Second Harvest to discuss their business and traffic flows in this area.

• TDOT also spoke with Belgeri and he discussed that “the county was investigating additional improvements like signalization at SR-357 with Jericho Drive and additional measures at Jericho with the school entrance.”

• “There are likely pros and cons for all (three) concepts and also further study for environmental and survey work before construction plans could be completed ... costs for each option are very comparable and will depend on the final plans and details for construction.”