To push for a face-to-face meeting with state officials on plans to extend Pellissippi Parkway, Blount Countians nearly filled the Blount County Commission meeting room Tuesday.
Commissioners voted 19-1 during the workshop to put on their June 17 meeting agenda a resolution urging the Tennessee Department of Transportation to hold a “publicly advertised, in-person hearing at a venue that accommodates a large crowd for public input.”
TDOT accepted online comments in late April and allowed mail-in comments until late May on plans to extend the four-lane highway 4.4 miles from Old Knoxville Highway to East Lamar Alexander Parkway, at a current estimated cost of $84.3 million. A TDOT spokesman said the online format minimized the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
“TDOT owes us a public hearing on the Pellissippi Parkway Extension,” Tom Robinson, owner of the century-old Bowman Farms near Pellissippi Place, told the commissioners. “They don’t want to have to justify a road that does not need to be built face to face.”
Robinson said planning for the Pellissippi Parkway began in 1971, and over the past 50 years, tens of thousands of people have moved to Blount County.
One of those is Ann Tedford, who asked the commissioners to look ahead at the impact of extending the highway. In 20 years, she said, “Will we still be a county that people define by the beauty and the rural character of our landscape, or will we be another version of West Knoxville or Pigeon Forge?”
Jeanne LeDoux-Hickman, who lives at the corner of Jeffries Hollow and Keener roads, called for rerouting the funding for the new project to addressing the condition of current roads that she called narrow and dangerous.
“Let’s not be wasteful,” she said. “The Pellissippi Parkway is not needed. Most of us in this room do not want it, either.”
Carole Olson, who lives in Sweet Grass Plantation, also mentioned the long-term impact of the project and called for open and transparent government.
All four received enthusiastic applause from dozens of others attending the meeting.
Commissioner Tom Stinnett, the lone vote against putting the resolution on the commission agenda, said in an interview afterward that people have had an opportunity to comment on the plan.
He recalled controversy in the past over building other highways in the county, and said already the existing part of Pellissippi Parkway has cut his driving time to Clinton from an hour and a half to 30 minutes.
“We have to build infrastructure,” said the commissioner from Friendsville. “If we don’t and we block ourself in, then go to Madisonville, go to towns who do not build infrastructure and check their businesses. There’s a lot of empty buildings.”
The commissioners also approved for the June 17 meeting agenda plans to keep the current property tax rate and a $242.3 million budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which begins July 1, as well as a priority list for capital projects.