Right-of-way funding for Gap Creek Road included in transportation budget

By Megan R. Harrell

Star Staff

   Right-of-way funding for the construction on Gap Creek Road was included in the Department of Transportation's list of highway projects presented to the General Assembly yesterday. The governor has recommended the funding for the purchase of the right-of-way for 5.8 miles on Gap Creek Road (Hwy. 362) from West G Street to Dry Creek Road.
   Gov. Don Sundquist included the construction on Gap Creek Road in his $1.5 billion transportation budget for the 2002-2003 fiscal year. The budget provides funding for 55 road projects in 41 counties across Tennessee. Together the improvements represent approximately 300 miles of highway construction. "Our goal is to continue to keep Tennessee mobile while building better communities for us to live, work and play. This transportation budget meets those challenges," Gov. Sundquist said.
   Rep. Ralph Cole (R-Elizabethton) and Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) represent Carter County in the General Assembly and were instrumental in seeking the necessary funding for the three-part construction project on Gap Creek Road. Rep. Cole has been working with the DOT for over three years to get the project under way and has approached the governor on the issue as well. Rep. Cole approached the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Transportation in January of 2002 to seek the right-of-way funding. "I have only contacted the governor twice on road projects. The first time was for the widening of Hwy. 91 in Stoney Creek," Rep. Cole said. "Don Sundquist has been extremely good to Carter County on highway projects and I knew he was leaving office soon and wanted to see this taken care of."
   The advance planning report and engineering for the construction was completed two years ago. After right-of-way funding, property appraisers will be able to buy properties that are included in the engineering report. Once the properties have been attained construction will begin to widen and redirect Gap Creek Road. Rep. Cole stated that he believes construction on the project should begin next year barring any financial crisis.
   The budget for road projects is separate from the general fund. All financing in the transportation budget is federal money. "Unless legislators raid the road fund these projects will be funded," Sen. Crowe said. "Once the right-of-way is approved there is a pretty darn good bet that the money will be there for the construction unless the road money is used to fund other things, but I do not see that happening. That is not the right thing to do."
   An estimated 5,700 to 12,980 vehicles per day are expected to travel on Gap Creek Road in 2003 with an increase between 8,550 to 19,450 projected by the year 2023. The widening of the road is an attempt to increase the safety of motorists on the highly traveled road. It will also increase travel time and cut down on the amount of traffic in residential areas on the already existing Gap Creek Road. "This will be a great advantage to the people living in Hampton and Roan Mountain as well as the citizens living in the Gap Creek section of Elizabethton," Rep. Cole said.