Private companies offer green for red lights

Interstate Development Company to help city

Thomas Wilson

   Two private companies have offered to fund installation of traffic signals near their properties in Elizabethton to accommodate traffic and expected future growth.
   The new owners of the former Bemberg Shopping Center and K-VA-T Food Stores have added their names to a list requesting traffic signalization at intersections along two of the city's busiest thoroughfares. Elizabethton city leaders are already pushing the Tennessee Department of Transportation to install a traffic signal at the West Elk Avenue/Wallace Avenue intersection to meet expected traffic flow for the upcoming Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse superstore.
   "The three signals we are requesting are in support of local developers," City Manager Charles Stahl said Monday.
   In a letter sent to Elizabethton city government administration last month, Michael Nidiffer of Interstate Development Company based in Bristol requests city officials to petition TDOT to install a traffic signal at the primary entrance of the former Bemberg Center on West Elk Avenue just east of Bemberg Road. The shopping center was recently renamed Elk Crossing.
   Nidiffer writes that the company would be willing to fund the entire cost of the traffic signal. The company would also close two existing access points to the property on West Elk Avenue.
   "That would be the appropriate thing to do," said David Ornduff, director of the city's Planning and Development Department of the company's vow to seal the existing curb cuts. "Otherwise, you will have one traffic-controlled intersection and two cuts not controlled that will cause congestion."
   In his letter, Nidiffer said a new tenant is taking up occupancy in the building and the company expects a "major grocery store" to move into the shopping center. Without the traffic signal, Nidiffer said, the grocery store will not commit to coming.
   Nidiffer did not return a telephone call on Monday.
   K-VA-T Food Stores, Inc., owners of Food City stores, plan a 10,000-square foot expansion to their 920 Broad St. store in Elizabethton. The expansion is expected to generate an additional 50 to 75 jobs, according to Food City officials.
   K-VA-T's Vice President of Real Estate, Louis A. Scudere, is also petitioning the city for a new traffic signal at the intersection of Broad Street and Northeast Drive to accommodate increased traffic flow around the store.
   Scudere wrote Stahl a letter last month indicating that projected traffic increases from the Roan Mountain and Hampton areas had created concerns about traffic movement around the Broad Street location.
   Transportation officials shot down a similar signalization proposal from the city in November. TDOT operations division reported that the intersection did not warrant a signal based on an analysis of traffic volume and turning movement.
   The Winn-Dixie supermarkets on U.S. Highway 19E and Hudson Drive are two of more than 100 stores scheduled to close following an announcement from the company's corporate office on Friday. The announcement came as cinder blocks and steel rise in construction of the new Wal-Mart Supercenter store on West Elk Avenue that will include a large grocery section.
   Stahl said a private company willing to pay for a traffic signal was rare, but had occurred before. He cited the Food Lion supermarket had funded the traffic signal at the West Elk Avenue/Cherokee Park Drive intersection several years ago. He said the company's dollars could influence TDOT's decision to approve the signal.
   "I think TDOT will take that into consideration," said Stahl. The department typically decides traffic signal needs based on studies revealing traffic volume, turning movement and a review of the accident history at each intersection. Transportation officials have reviewed six intersections on West Elk Avenue including Wallace Avenue, where the proposed Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse plans to locate.
   According to TDOT's Annual Daily Traffic (ADT) report of 2003, West Elk Avenue averaged 31,200 motorists at one of three reporting stations that monitored vehicle movement on the street. That average represented an increase of over 1,000 motorists on West Elk Avenue compared to the department's 2002 ADT report.
   Stahl and Mayor Sam LaPorte submitted letters to Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely requesting the traffic signals shortly after becoming aware of the companies' requests.
   Other intersections where the city has petitioned TDOT to install traffic signals include State Route 91 and Ben Allen Road at the Watauga Industrial Park; State Route 91 and Iodent Way at the Watauga Industrial Park; West Elk Avenue and Williams Avenue near Sycamore Shoals Hospital.
   The department also denied installation of a traffic signal at the intersection of State Route 91 and Ben Allen Road near the Elizabethton Municipal Airport. The transportation review did say after the U.S. Highway 91 project was completed, a traffic volume and signal warrant study will be conducted.