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County takes another look at Cedar Fork/U.S. 25E

Members of the Claiborne Commission went into the meeting on Monday evening with a proposed resolution calling quits to the TDOT plan to reconfigure the intersection at Cedar Fork Road and U.S. 25E. By the end of the discussion, the commissioners decided to give county mayor Joe Brooks one last go at convincing the state to make changes to the proposal. Brooks said he and Tazewell mayor Bill Fannon had scheduled a meeting on July 11 with Tennessee Senator Frank Nicely, the state engineer and others to see if the project could be revamped to better suit traffic needs.

Brooks said the reason for the meeting is to see if TDOT will agree to shift the $3.3 million in federal Appalachian grant funds, currently earmarked for the intersection, to a project to pay for the straightening of three problematic curves along Cedar Fork Road.

The estimated $10 million intersection project was expected to have been paid with the federal grant and a state grant in the amount of some $6.7 million, Brooks said.

While there, he said he will also “lobby” for the original intersection concept that was taken off the table when TDOT decided to rework it in favor of a “smaller footprint” and lower construction costs.

Commissioner Brent Clark said he had never agreed with the final version presented by TDOT.

“I think it will cause more of a traffic problem with another 90 degree turn coming from Cedar Fork. But, what would work is an acceleration lane and a deceleration lane, which would keep the traffic flowing from Cedar Fork, eliminates the 90 degree turn and traffic congestion.

“Is it going to fix the problem with Cedar Fork? – Absolutely not. This is just the intersection. They got the grant for this. This is what they’re going to do to fix that intersection and Cedar Fork will be a later on project,” said Clark.

Brooks detailed the original concept, which he favors.

“There were originally two plans on the table. Four years ago, TDOT dropped the first proposal which was a diamond interchange that would get all three of these roads combined together. Traffic coming from Knoxville would be led right up to Cedar Fork. From Morristown through Middlesboro, you’d have traffic lanes in between. And, you’d maintain your Main Street access that you currently have.

“Because of the expense of that, they decided to go with something more appropriate,” said Brooks.

He said that, at some point in the future, TDOT could do a study to see about adding acceleration lanes going north and deceleration lanes moving south.

“But, you’re not going to change the traffic flow going south because there’s nowhere to put an acceleration lane because of the Historical Society-owned Gulf Station,” said Brooks.

He said he asked TDOT officials their take on traffic flow issues when tractor/trailer drivers are wishing to go southbound.

“You’ve got an 80,000 pound tractor/trailer that’s going to make a right hand turn and go south – less than 900 feet they’ve got to get in the right lane to make these two turn lanes. The reply was ‘in time these truck drivers will know to turn across both lanes of traffic’ as they leave this intersection from a dead stop.

“So, you’ll have all the traffic coming at speed down the hill with tractor/trailers coming across two lanes to get into these turn-lanes to go towards Morristown. If you’re going north, you’re going to pull out against tractor/trailers that just made this right hand turn, gaining speed, then will jump into the left hand lane, not to be slowed down. And, you’ll have two tractor/trailers going up motel hill blocking that traffic,” said Brooks.

He pointed out another concern with the TDOT plan involving the blockage of the current access road to Main Street.

“They’re going to turn here thinking they’re going downtown. This road (the access road) will be gone. They’ll come up Fugate Street which is also going to be dead-ended. So, you’ll be forced into a hammerhead turnaround and come back out on a one-way street,” said Brooks.

He reminded those present that truck traffic will only increase due to drivers who prefer taking U.S. 25E through Tazewell so as to avoid traveling through Knox county on their way to Interstate 75.

As for acceleration and deceleration lanes, he said there are no guarantees.

“TDOT is not sitting at the drawing board trying to come up with them. And, they even said that in the meeting – that would be something they would come and do in a ten year period. In the meantime, you would have a nightmare,” said Brooks.

However, TDOT is in the process of studying possible ways to straighten the three curves on Cedar Fork Road, he said.

He also pointed to future TDOT plans to 5-lane U.S. 25E from Mountain Road into the Tazewell city limits.

Brooks said he realizes there are concerns about telling TDOT that the county does not want the intersection project, as presented.

“I’m not asking you to say that and leave it at that,” said Brooks, adding that the meeting with Nicely should net some help.

“Senator Nicely agrees with Tazewell that this is not a good project. He was instrumental in getting the interchange at Bean Station going into Rutledge. He thinks that we can get the correct interchange by not taking this one,” said Brooks.

The now tabled resolution, as currently written, was to have confirmed county agreement with Tazewell that ‘no plan is better than the TDOT proposal.’

After more discussion, the commission unanimously approved a motion to table the matter until the July meeting. Brooks and Fannon are expected to return with suggestions from Nicely, representative Jerry Sexton and the state engineer.