Northern connector coming to Elizabethton

By Megan R. Harrell

   The Department of Transportation's (DOT) contract for the interchange of the northern connector between Highways 19E and 91 will be awarded Feb. 8. The section of Hwy. 91 near the Elizabethton airport will be turned into five lanes as part of the same contract.
   Rep. Ralph Cole (R-Elizabethton) discussed the contract with the DOT and stated that the remainder of the northern connector is on track. The final public hearing concerning the matter will be held in March.
   DOT officials are taking efforts to secure funding from the budget for the purchase of a right away for Gap Creek Road. Rep. Cole is also working with the government to come up with funding for the road projects.
   With all the road projects under way some will have to wait until more funding becomes available. Rep. Cole previously worked to have preliminary engineering done at the prospect of widening Hwy. 359 through Okolona, and between Milligan Hwy. and Interstate 181. Cole is now asking for only one quarter of a mile on Hwy. 359 be widened. The stretch of highway lies between Milligan Hwy. and Buff Creek. Rep. Cole stated that completing the entire project is not feasible at this time.
   Rep. Cole requested that money from the DOT's safety fund be used for the construction on Hwy. 359. He has also asked a construction crew from Knoxville to work on the project, since receiving funding from the DOT's budget does not seem possible this year.
   "The Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce and the Elizabethton/Carter County Commissions have all endorsed and requested the northern connector. This highway will be an open access highway; so many more businesses and industries will be allowed to locate around the route. This will result in the economic development and new sales tax revenue," Rep. Cole said.