The Farragut West Knox Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel discussion, “Infrastructure Impacts,” at its May 4 Breakfast Speaker Series held at Fox Den Country Club. Farragut Mayor Ron Williams, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, Knox County Public Works and Engineering Senior Director Jim Snowden and TDOT Region 1 Director Steve Borden fielded questions about roads and traffic.
One of the hottest topics was the possibility of adding choice lanes – new, separate lanes that drivers can choose to travel on for a fee – that would be funded by public-private partnerships to help cover the cost of the project. Governor Bill Lee recently signed the Transportation Modernization Act, a $3.3 billion investment that would add choice lanes in congested urban areas.
Borden said that Knox County has the highest interstate volume in the state. The topography of East Tennessee might require the use of elevated lanes, like those used in Texas, in some areas. TDOT is currently looking at possible locations for choice lanes, and it will likely be seven years before the building process begins, he said.
On a more local level, Williams said that the biggest traffic issue in Farragut is interstate travelers being diverted to Kingston Pike by navigation apps when traffic backs up. The town’s Advanced Traffic Management System will help allay temporary traffic backups when it is completed in 2024.
Borden also fielded questions about a possible Knoxville interstate bypass. It’s not a project now, he said, but he knows there’s interest. The West Knox weigh station is among the three busiest in the country, he said, and that level of truck traffic along the I-40/I-75 corridor creates challenges. Still, a bypass would be decades away.
“It would be for our kids and grandkids.”
The cost of road projects, as well as ongoing problems with the supply chain and the workforce, were echoed by the panel. Coward Mill Road was recently upgraded to two 11-foot lanes with shoulders and a sidewalk at a cost of approximately $1,000 per foot, which is approximately $5.2 million per mile, “just for the basics,” Snowden said.
But he expressed optimism that the Advance Knox initiative, the county’s effort to create an integrated land use and transportation plan, will ultimately result in better traffic flow in the county. A draft of the plan should go before the mayor in a month or two, and then go to the legislative bodies for adoption. Zoning will then be updated to dovetail with the land use plan to encourage development of town centers that would encourage walking and more localized driving.
One attendee asked for an update on the timetable for improving Canton Hollow Road, one of the most dangerous roads in the county. Snowden said the delay was created by two petroleum pipelines that run under the road. He expects work to start in late fall and take two years. The road will stay open during construction.
When Jacobs was asked if the roads would be able to handle the county’s recent surge in growth, he said they’d have to.
“We can’t close the doors. Remember, this a great place to live. That’s why they’re coming.”