The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) holds a public meeting Thursday afternoon to talk about options for extending the James White Parkway in South Knoxville.
More than a decade ago, the state started talking about finishing the parkway all the way to John Sevier Highway. The road currently reaches a dead end at Moody Avenue. Discussions about resuming construction have generated a groundswell of opposition from community groups, elected officials, and local business owners.
John Bevis, CEO of the Disc Exchange on Chapman Highway, is one of the business owners who think Moody Avenue should remain the end of the road for the James White Parkway. Bevis has watched traffic steered away from his business for the last year due to the closure of the Henley Bridge. He says extending the parkway at a price of more than $100 million would be the equivalent of investing in a permanent bridge closure.
"If you reopen the bridge and then extend the James White Parkway, you're really basically trading one for the other. So you're still diverting traffic away from us," said Bevis. "We don't need to pay a huge amount of money to build this road. I hope
they don't extend it. Let's work on the roads we have now."
The original intent of the James White Parkway was to make getting to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park easier. At the time, Chapman Highway was the primary route tourists took to get to the Smokies. In the decades since the project was conceived, tourists have adopted Highway 66 off Interstate 40 as the preferred route.
Another thing that has changed is the concrete jungle of the James White Parkway now dead-ends at an urban wilderness in South Knoxville. Any extension would cut into a new network of trails and green-ways the city has developed and promoted.
"There's not a city that I can think of that has this [Urban Wilderness] in their backyard that people can access and have fun in," said Bevis. "I personally think the Urban Wilderness is going to do more for South Knoxville than any road could ever do."
TDOT says extending the James White Parkway improves long-term safety compared to simply improving Chapman Highway.
"This is a growing area and we realize in the next 10 to 20 years traffic is only going to increase. We're looking for ways to alleviate a lot of that congestion and make it safer," said Nagi. "We also want to make sure people know that we want as many comments as we can get. We want to be as educated as we can, get all the feedback possible, and take it to Nashville where they will make a decision in a couple of months."
Nagi said any construction is still years away as TDOT considers four main options. Three are variations on paths to John Sevier Highway. The fourth option is to not build anything. As of now, that is the road both the city and county mayors, the Ijams Nature Center, Legacy Park Foundation, and Bevis hopes TDOT ultimately takes.
"With the bridge set to reopen in a few months, now is the time to invest in South Knoxville and make the existing roads great," said Bevis.
The TDOT public meeting is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. Thursday at South-Doyle Middle School. The TDOT website has a page devoted to information on the James White Parkway Project. A copy of the full environmental study can be found in pdf format at TDOT's online resource library.