The Tennessee Department of Transportation is asking the community to trust them. But trust is in short supply with the folks who live along Hwy. 127 or must travel it on a regular basis.
For more than 20 years the fate of the highway has been batted around. A project improving the heavily traveled road began being studies in 1999. Plans were made. Plans were scrapped. Citizens were called in to confer — over a period of more than two years.
In 2008, people thought they had their answer with the announcement of a four-lane divided highway to connect Crossville to Clarkrange. The route would follow, for the most part, the existing roadway, limiting disruption to communities that had chosen to be off the beaten path and retaining, as much as possible, the industries already found along the state highway.
The state has been buying land to construct the first section of the road — from Interstate 40 to about Potato Farm Rd. — and the last section — from Lowe Rd. to Little Rd. in Fentress County.
Many in the community complain about continuing delays in moving the road forward and building the new highway. Buildings sit abandoned, waiting for the bulldozers to push them away. Many families have already had their property purchased and have moved to new homes. Some homes have been relocated.
The people living in the middle sections — a stretch of about six miles from about Potato Farm Rd. to Lowe Rd. — have been in limbo as the state prepared its engineering plans for the road. Many have said they’ve been held captive by the process, unable to sell their property because no one knew for sure just how much land and which houses might be taken for the new four-lane divided highway.
Many of those concerns may have been put to rest Feb. 1 when representatives from the state outlined the plans for the next phase of the project. The state plans to go ahead and buy all the property it will need for a four-lane highway, so families and businesses can start moving on with their lives.
But the state isn’t planning on building that four-lane road just yet.
After 20 years of discussion, they say the traffic doesn’t rise to the level that needs a four-lane road at this time.
Their plan is to build two of the proposed four lanes and then pull up the pavement of the existing roadway. They’ll have the plans. They’ll have the property. And as soon as the traffic is there, they’ll come back and they’ll build the road they presented in 2008.
Now many of the citizens that have been waiting are left continuing to wait.
A two-lane improved road from Crossville to Clarkrange is certainly an improvement over the current road, but it remains to be seen if it will meet the primary goals of the road project — to reduce congestion, to improve safety for drivers and to address economic development for Fentress County.
Many also question just how this plan to come back — 10, 15 or even 20 years later — and build the other two lanes is fiscally responsible. TDOT couldn’t forecast just when those other two lanes would be needed and, thus, can’t begin to estimate how much they might spend on those two lanes in the future. But the cost of building roads only goes up with time and they’ll certainly spend more on the project tomorrow than they would today.
The state should reconsider its construction options and see if there is any way to accelerate completion of the full project — or at very least give it an end date.