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Thanksgiving travel to be heavy by road and by air

A word to those who cuss and fuss when jammed in traffic over the river and through the wood to grandmother’s house: Don’t blame it on TDOT.

In anticipation of higher traffic volumes for Thanksgiving, the Tennessee Department of Transportation said Monday that it will halt lane closures on interstates and state highways across the state.

All construction-related lane closures will be stopped starting at noon Wednesday, Nov. 27, through 6 a.m. Monday, Dec. 2.

AAA predicts this will be the second-highest Thanksgiving travel volume since the auto club began tracking in 2000, trailing only the record set in 2005.

In Tennessee, 1.2 million travelers will drive 50 miles or more to their destinations, an increase of 2.9% over last year, according to AAA. Across the nation, 49.3 million travelers will hit the road this Thanksgiving — 2.8% more than a year ago.

If there’s blame for vehicles lined up, blowing exhaust and going nowhere fast, put it on fellow travelers who can’t resist what many Americans say is their favorite holiday, despite polls routinely showing Christmas at the top. With both holidays, Americans are lured by good food shared with family and friends and plenty of it.

Roast it, smoke it, deep fry it, even grill it, turkey is the Thanksgiving centerpiece. Maybe Benjamin Franklin wasn’t so off base in lobbying for the turkey to be the national bird. If it could only fly like an eagle — which many travelers will be doing.

Airlines for America, the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, expects a record 31.6 million passengers to travel aboard U.S. carriers worldwide during the 12-day Thanksgiving travel period, a 3.7% increase over last year. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, Dec. 1, is poised to be the busiest travel day ever for the U.S. airline industry, with 3.1 million passengers expected.

McGhee Tyson Airport

“And the same will be true at McGhee Tyson Airport,” said Caitlin Darras, Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority senior public relations specialist.

The math is simple. MKAA statistics already show a 17% increase in passenger numbers this year at McGhee Tyson. In comparison to last November, TYS has a 15% increase in the number of airline seats available this year due to an increase in flights and destinations.

What does this mean? “The airport will be even busier than normal for travelers and guests,” Darras said.

The busiest travel days are projected to be today, Nov. 26; Wednesday, Nov. 27; Saturday, Nov. 30; Sunday, Dec. 1; and Monday, Dec. 2 — every day except for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.

To help with the long lines anticipated at security checkpoints, the Transportation Security Administration and MKAA have constructed a fourth lane at the TSA checkpoint. The new lane will be open during peak times to alleviate prolonged wait times.

It is anticipated that airport parking areas will be near or hit capacity at peak times. Additional economy lot parking spaces have been added to accommodate travelers.

Darras said airport representatives will be available to provide travel tips and recommendations. Tip No. 1: Arrive at the airport at least two hours before your scheduled flight departure time to find a parking spot and get through the TSA checkpoint.

Check your baggage

Also before arrival, check TSA’s website (www.tsa.gov) to make sure you’re not carrying prohibited items. “You wouldn’t believe some of the things that we see at our checkpoints each and every day, and the No. 1 thing we hear from passengers is, ‘I forgot it was there,’” Patricia Cogswell, TSA’s acting deputy administrator, told The Associated Press.

The Federal Administration Administration already has reported a record number of passengers’ firearms discovered at TYS this year.

Best advice from travel professionals: Be patient, and get used to it. Travel demand is booming, so “passengers will continue to experience holiday-level travel volumes throughout the year, but this is our busiest time of the year,” said Kevin Burke, CEO of Airports Council International-North America, an airport trade group.

Patience applies to road riders, too. TDOT reminds drivers that while all lane closure activity will be stopped, workers may be on-site in some construction zones. Long-term lane closures will remain in place on some construction projects for motorists’ safety. Motorists are advised to obey the posted speeds, especially in work zones. It will cost drivers convicted of speeding in work zones where workers are present. What not to be thankful for? A fine of up to $500, plus court fees and possible increased insurance premiums.

Rockford sex offender sentenced to two years for attending church trunk or treat

A registered sex offender received a two-year sentence Monday, Nov. 25, after admitting to attending a trunk-or-treat event at a church near an elementary school.

Eric O’Neal Forshee, 44, Bays Mountain Road, Rockford, pleaded guilty in Blount County Circuit Court to his second offense of violating the sex offender registry.

Under Judge David Duggan’s sentencing, Forshee must serve 180 days in confinement, with credit for the time he has spent in jail since his arrest Oct. 30. The remaining 18 months will be supervised, and Forshee must pay a $600 fine and court costs.

Someone told a Blount County Sheriff’s deputy attending the trunk or treat Oct. 27 at Wildwood Baptist Church, 4705 Porter Circle, Maryville, that Forshee was a registered sex offender and on church grounds.

According to a BCSO report, when the deputy called an investigator, he advised that if people at the church did not want Forshee on the property they would need to ask him to leave and the BCSO would investigate. The following day the investigator and a detective went to the church, which has a playground and is within 1,000 feet of Porter Elementary School, and determined that Forshee’s attending the event violated the sex offender registry.

In January 2016, Forshee pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the registry for failing to report three different Facebook accounts opened since 2010 and failing to disclose an alias, court records show. One of the accounts was under the name Rick O’Neal.

Court records also indicate Forshee violated his probation in 2016 and 2017 by having a smartphone with unauthorized internet access and pornography on the device.

A charge against Forshee of violating the registry by residing with a minor child was dismissed in Blount County General Sessions Court on Nov. 6. According to another BCSO report, a woman told deputies in August that she and her 5-year-old daughter spent two nights at Forshee’s residence.

Forshee denied they had stayed with him, but a rental agreement he allegedly signed in March listed the woman and her child as co-applicant and tenant, the report states.

As of Monday, Nov. 25, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation database showed 71 registered sex offenders in Blount County.

TBI’s records show Forshee was convicted in 2002 of second-degree statutory sodomy and first-degree sexual misconduct.

Each year around Halloween, the Tennessee Department of Corrections conducts “Operation Blackout,” with probation and parole officers visiting the homes of what it considers high-risk sex offenders in an effort to help protect children when they trick or treat.

This year the checks began Oct. 21 and included more than 3,500 offenders.

At least one Blount County arrest resulted this year from Operation Blackout, with an Alcoa man accused of not registering user names to social media accounts he was operating, according to a TDOC spokesman.

$2.8 million Carpenters Grade widening plans introduced to residents

Less than a mile of road at the center of a growing residential neighborhood in Maryville and which has seen increasing levels of traffic is set to get a multimillion-dollar makeover in the next four years.

Maryville engineers held a public meeting Nov. 20 for residents living on or near a section of Carpenters Grade Road in south Maryville. The road is set for a significant widening project, and officials used the meeting to explain updates on a National Environmental Policy Act study on the road — set for completion in early 2020 — and asking for feedback from residents.

The project is an 80-20 collaboration with the Tennessee Department of Transportation in which the state pays 80% of the cost and the city 20%. Total costs come to $2.8 million, according to a presentation from Director of Engineering and Public Works Brian Boone.

City Engineer Kevin Stoltenberg said in a phone interview that, though the project’s completion deadline has been pushed back to the mid-2020s at this point, new designs have been well accepted by residents.

“I think that it’s the most responsible design that we could come up with that is respectful of the neighborhoods and doesn’t take up too much space,” Stoltenberg said.

Designs include a possible traffic signal at the intersection of Raulston Road/Peterson Lane and Carpenters Grade, the widening of two 9-foot lanes to 11-foot lanes, a new multi-use walkway and the addition of a turn lane near the four-way intersection.

Flanking the road are mostly subdivision homes whose parcels have total market appraisal values ranging from around $75,000 to upwards of $600,000, according to Blount parcel data.

The project stretches only about 4,500 feet through the residential neighborhood from the Raulston/Peterson/Carpenters intersection to Cochran Road, Stoltenberg said, and is primarily focused on dealing with a high amount of traffic.

“We’re at 11,000 vehicles a day right now,” Stoltenberg said, “and the road itself is starting to crumble.” He said the city was considering simply fixing the issues itself, but decided to use state funding, which is why the project is going through an environmental study.

Even though that may make the planning process last longer than originally anticipated, engineers agree the efforts are necessary.

“With all the development that we’re seeing out that way, our traffic studies that we had have showed that it’s only going to get worse over the next several years,” Stoltenberg said.

He noted the intersection alone would fail by 2040 if repairs weren’t addressed, citing information from city consultants.

The four separate and slow project phases — from initial studies to construction completion — mean that the widening project itself may not be complete until spring of 2024, Stoltenberg said.

But with the NEPA process nearly complete, the city may complete the design phase by late 2020.

Stoltenberg stressed the project’s current designs were preliminary and nothing was set in stone. “What gets built is almost never what you see on the front end of the design,” he said, confirming designs in the works now do a good job of conveying what the city intends to build.

The Carpenters Grade widening effort is only one of many road projects on the horizon for Maryville. The city has nearly 20 other road projects in the works.