TDOT's presence felt over county

By Lesley Jenkins
Star Staff

   Representatives with the Tennessee Department of Transportation addressed the Carter County Planning Commission Tuesday concerning upcoming projects and ongoing construction work, particularly the refurbishment of the Elk Avenue Bridge.
   Nine projects are in the design phase, according to TDOT representative Paul Beebe. The first project will be to add turning lanes to the Carden's Bluff Campground on U.S. Highway 67. Also, a new bridge is planned for State Route 37 and State Route 159 over the Elk River, near the North Carolina border.
   A bridge also will be constructed for River Dam Road, a project halted previously because of discovered Indian artifacts. The plans have been adjusted so the new bridge will not run parallel with the old bridge.
   Beebe expects the earliest start date for construction of the Northern Connector to be 2007. A public hearing was held in October 2002 and property buyout is expected to begin in the fall 2005.
   "It is subject to construction in fall 2006, but the earliest I would guess for construction is 2007," Beebe told commissioners. "I have been around too long to know that's not going to happen."
   A potentially controversial project involves State Route 362 in the Gap Creek area. The design calls for a 5-and-a-half mile stretch of widened two-lane road that will turn into a three-lane road the last half-mile before stopping near the current intersection on West G Street.
   Commissioners and a few vocal citizens from the audience questioned why the road would not end at the current location. Beebe said the road "can't follow the old alignment" and cited river crossings and horizontal-vertical alignments as the reason.
   A public hearing will be held in the next year-and-a-half for citizens to voice concerns and suggest possible changes to the project.
   The final three projects will involve Lynn Avenue in Elizabethton. Phase 1 includes replacing the bridge over the Watauga River with a five-lane bridge complete with five-foot sidewalks. Two other phases will continue with construction from the bridge to Broad Street.
   Construction projects are ongoing at State Route 91 on Panhandle Road, which TDOT representative Harold Martin expects to be finished by March. Another project is State Route 91 at the intersection of State Route 37, estimated to cost nearly $7 million. The project, to be finished by June, will widen that section to five lanes.
   A dangerous interchange at the Hampton intersection of State Route 19E and U.S. Highway 67/321 will see wider lanes and other expansions by June, making it a "safer interchange," according to Martin. Citizens again questioned TDOT's planning and asked for a signal light. Martin said the County Commission must submit a request for a signal light, and then TDOT will study the site to determine if it meets the criteria.
   Martin also updated the board about the much-anticpated completion of the Elk Avenue Bridge which he said experienced many internal problems during renovation that delayed progress.
   It is expected "to be done by the first of June. It will not interfere with the Covered Bridge Celebration," Martin said as a sigh of relief echoed across the table.
   In other business, members decided to study fees and penalties associated with the county's zoning ordinance at an upcoming Rules and By-Laws meeting. They plan to discuss capping the fees, issuing a five-year moratorium on raising them, or placing a fee schedule for five to 10 years. Planning Director Chris Schuettler said it was a "legitimate concern" of citizens who don't want fees to sky-rocket in coming years.