New developments on W. Elk Avenue will require better traffic management

By Rozella Hardin

   The construction of a new Wal-Mart Super Center and a Lowe's Home Center on the North American Rayon properties will necessitate both short and long-term traffic planning.
   Haynes Elliott, Carter County-Elizabethton Economic Development Director, said the two new businesses are just the beginning of commercial development around the North American properties. "The two new businesses, alone, will necessitate some changes to better accommodate the traffic flow on W. Elk Avenue," said Elliott, who also serves as chairman of the Elizabethton Planning Commission.
   In an attempt to facilitate subsequent business near the site, the city's planning commission in August approved a resolution requesting that the Tennessee Department of Transportation construct a bridge across the Watauga River connecting the proposed Northern Connector five-lane highway to the Cherokee Industrial Park. The bridge, according to Elliott, will not only beef up economic development, but will divert fast-moving traffic back to the city's business district instead of around it.
   "The Northern Connector is going to be good for the city. It is going to take a lot of truck traffic off Broad Street and W. Elk Avenue," Elliott opined. "At the same time, providing we get the bridge at the Cherokee Industrial Park, it will provide easy access to the west end shopping area, especially for people on Stoney Creek."
   According to Elliott, W. Elk Avenue is the third most traveled road in the area.
   "Current plans are to construct a bridge which will link the Northern Connector to the cul-de-sac of Cherokee Industrial Park near the former North American water filter plant," Elliott said.
   Also, the plan is to build another road to the new Wal-Mart site and extend Tony Fuller Drive (located on the west side of the present Wal-Mart) back to the Cherokee Industrial Park cul-de-sac.
   The $28 million Northern Connector project begins at State Route 67 (Elk Avenue) west of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 2166, moves north across the Watauga River then runs east, linking up with the U.S. Highway 19-E and Highway 91 interchange. The section will include four traffic lanes and continuous center lane. The entire length of the project is 3.9 miles.
   According to Elliott, the project will also include replacement of the Bristol Bridge on Lynn Avenue.
   "We've got three shopping centers, a super Wal-Mart and other things in the mill," said Elliott of the need for the bridge. "If the bridge is built, we will probably not have to expand Cherokee Park Drive to a four-lane road.
   "We are looking at a traffic light at Wallace Avenue at the entrance to the post office. Short-term we are looking at a road which will begin at the new Super Wal-Mart and continue east in front of the new Lowe's store, where it will link with Wallace Ave. Long-term plans call for extending the road, routing it behind the post office to the Tony Fuller Road, which is part of the present Wal-Mart property. This road would eventually then hook up with the Northern Connector via way of a bridge over Watauga River," Elliott explained. The road would open up a second access to W. Elk Avenue from the Wal-Mart Super Center, via Wallace Avenue where a traffic light will be installed.
   It is also in this area between the river and the Lowe's property that the state has indicated an interest in building a fish hatchery. "A road extending from the Tony Fuller Road to the Northern Connector would be vital to this business," said Elliott.
   The economic development director said demolition of former NAR buildings where the Wal-Mart Super Center will be built, should begin soon. The new super center, which is scheduled to open in August 2004, will be built on a 22.69-acre tract where the North American Corporation building stands. Wal-Mart paid $2.8 million in May for the property .
   Site plans include a 205,000 square-foot building.
   The Lowe's Home Improvement Center will be built on a 16-acre tract located at the end of Wallace Avenue and adjacent to the new Wal-Mart Super Center.
   Elliott said he is working to locate a first-class restaurant on or near the NAR site. "If we had liquor-by-the drink, it would be not a problem," he opined.
   Another project which Elliott is high on is the Bemberg Shopping Center, which was purchased earlier this fall by Mike Nidiffer of Interstate Properties. "This is going to be re-developed into a first class shopping center with several new businesses. As I understand it, the old Heck's building will be subdivided into four or five smaller stores," he said.
   The 13-acre site on which the shopping center is located provides more than ample parking and room for expansion of rentable space, and in an area where traffic is heavy and vacant space is hard to find. The shopping center is accessible from W. Elk Avenue as well as W. Mill Street.
   Elliott said that once the new Wal-Mart Super Center is open, the old Wal-Mart will be developed for new business as well. "We already have plans for that building and a good prospect," he said.
   "We have some things in the works that will be good for this town and community. The Wal-Mart Super Center and Lowe's are just the beginning," he said.