The common-sense solution: Improve the existing roads instead of building new ones.
One of two “uncompleted” sections of the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Corridor K conceived in 1964, U.S. Highway 64 through the Ocoee Gorge in eastern Tennessee’s Polk County – the site of the 1996 Olympic whitewater competition – has attracted attention in recent years as the Tennessee Department of Transportation pushes to “improve” the road. TDOT is currently studying options that could include improvements to the existing highway or construction of a new two- or four-lane road higher on the mountains either north or south of the current road.
WaysSouth is concerned that construction of a new road would fragment one of the last remaining significant intact pieces of wildlife habitat; cause water quality problems in some of the region’s premier trout streams; expose new formations of acid-bearing rock; and create visual scars in the spectacular Cherokee National Forest.
All of this destruction would come at an enormous financial cost, would provide no significant travel savings time and probably little or no economic development benefits, and could leave the area as vulnerable to rock slides as it is today.
For all of these reasons, WaysSouth is leading citizen participation in the planning process to ensure that options involving improvement of the existing road – common-sense fixes like straightening curves, widening shoulders, and adding passing lanes where appropriate – are properly considered.
WaysSouth Board member Betty Petty served on the Citizens Resource Team advising the Tennessee Department of Transportation in the planning stages of the proposed project in Polk County. In June 2010, when the Tennessee DOT issued its “Transportation Planning Report,” the first official document in its planning process for the project, WaysSouth responded with a press release pointing out the document’s weaknesses.
More recently, we submitted comments addressing the statement of the purpose and need for the project and the alternatives to be considered.
Currently, TDOT is preparing its federally required Environmental Impact Statement and expects to release a draft in summer 2012. As TDOT prepares this critically important document, there will be several opportunities for public input. WaysSouth will continue to lead the charge to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard in this process and that TDOT thoroughly considers all possible alternatives.