For Immediate Release
For more information, contact:
Jim Grode, WaysSouth Executive Director, 706-508-3711
(June 24, 2010) — WaysSouth Urges Tennessee to Improve Existing Roads in Polk County
New Road Not the Answer to Community’s Needs
The Tennessee Department of Transportation’s quietly released Transportation Planning Report (TPR) for proposed improvements to the U.S. Highway 64 corridor, known as Corridor K, in Polk County, Tennessee, is deeply flawed, announced WaysSouth, a nonprofit organization advocating responsible transportation solutions for the southern Appalachians. The TPR, TDOT’s first official statement of the perceived purpose and need for the project and the initiation of the process for preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement, makes extensive reference to this section of U.S. 64 as part of the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS) plan and to a flawed 2008 ARC study, “Corridor K Economic Development and Transportation Study,” that relies on the ADHS plan.
The ADHS plan, developed by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), dates to 1965, when the Appalachian region was in deep poverty and well before completion of the Interstate system. The plan envisions our mountain roads as a conduit for global commerce. This outdated notion fails to account for the changed transportation system and needs of the region, the increasing role of rail for long range transport of commercial goods, and the dramatic decline in production of manufactured goods in the U.S. The ARC has refused to account for the value of our remaining natural areas in the region to the way of life and economic prosperity of the region or to acknowledge the impacts to communities of the sprawl along much of the current ARC road corridor system. In chasing the pipe dream of an outdated economic model, ARC and TDOT fail to responsibly address the actual problems with U.S. 64 and the real transportation challenges that residents face in southeastern Tennessee and the surrounding region.
Although it is dated May 2010 and is an important milestone in the planning process, the TPR was not accompanied by a press release or any other announcement of its release. It simply appeared with no fanfare on TDOT’s website in late June 2010. WaysSouth hopes that the remainder of the planning process will show greater sensitivity to the public’s right for information.
WaysSouth applauds the inclusion in the TPR of Option 2A, which calls for spot improvements to existing U.S. Highway 64 in Polk County. However, this good option is undermined by its excessive reliance on the ARC’s outdated ADHS plan and economic development study. WaysSouth calls on TDOT to revise its purpose and need to address the region’s real transportation needs such as upgrades to existing state and county routes. WaysSouth also calls on the ARC to revise its outmoded vision and design constraints to enable funding of an innovative highway along the existing alignment that would address the transportation needs of the 21st century while safeguarding our natural and cultural heritage.
“Building a new road on new alignment is not the answer to the transportation needs of Polk County and the surrounding area,” said Terry Miller, chair of the WaysSouth board and resident of Hixson, Tennessee. “Selected improvements to Highway 64, Tennessee Route 68, and other existing roads can provide all the benefits of a new road, at a substantially lower cost to the taxpayers of Polk County, the State of Tennessee, and the United States.”
By TDOT’s projections, building a new road will cost between $370 million and $1.3 billion, even before factoring in the potentially astronomical costs of mitigating exposure of acidic rock. In this time of scarce resources, it is not cost-effective to spend those amounts to build a new road through mountainous terrain simply to improve travel times between Ducktown and Chattanooga by 4 minutes, TDOT’s own estimate of the difference between spot fixes of U.S. 64 and the fastest alternative.
Furthermore, Tennessee cannot afford to maintain both U.S. 64 and a new road so that one will be available when the other is closed. The first time the gorge road is closed by a rockslide, washes out or simply needs resurfacing, the state is likely to abandon it, an action that would doom the Ocoee rafting industry, the economic lifeblood of eastern Polk County.
“We sympathize with residents of eastern Polk County whose businesses and lives were harmed by last November’s rock slide,” said Melanie Mayes, a professional geologist who serves on the WaysSouth board and lives in Knoxville. “However, the unfortunate reality is that the rugged terrain of
Polk County and the Southern Appalachians makes rock slides virtually inevitable. No fewer than 15 rockslides this past winter have closed roads in the region. Rockslides will close a new road too. They are not a reason to make bad transportation planning decisions.”
WaysSouth believes that TDOT should focus less on through traffic in addressing the transportation needs of the region and more on the needs of residents to get to jobs and healthcare and the thousands of tourists, rafters and hikers who come to Polk County as a destination. Fixing the current bottlenecks can deliver those benefits at a significantly lower cost to taxpayers and in significantly less time.
Beyond failing to deliver the benefits that some boosters are clamoring for, a new road will certainly have significant negative environment impacts. All of the new alignments TDOT is considering will abut the Little Frog Wilderness or the Big Frog Wilderness, causing visual and noise disturbances in the wilderness. They will also create a “no-man’s land” between Highway 64 and the new road, fragmenting habitat and likely having a severe detrimental impact on the large black bear population in the area.
“A new road will also cross the headwaters of pristine streams that currently are prime trout fishing destinations, killing them with acid drainage just as surely as the Ocoee was killed years ago,” commented Jim Grode, WaysSouth executive director.
In contrast, a program of targeted upgrades to existing roads makes economic and environmental sense and will serve all the real transportation needs of the region. WaysSouth encourages TDOT to adopt Option 2A rather than wasting taxpayer money on an outdated notion that newer, bigger highways are always better. Funding for such improvements would be available from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and WaysSouth urges ARC to think beyond a nearly-half- century-old road proposal and invest in transportation improvements that meet the needs of today’s world.
WaysSouth is a nonprofit organization advocating for responsible transportation in the Southern Appalachians. More information about WaysSouth is available at www.wayssouth.org.