The plan has several components, with a total cost estimated somewhere under $1 million. Most of the money, 80 percent, will come from a Tennessee Department of Transportation grant. The county is required to pony up 20 percent. An exact amount isn’t yet available because the plan has just received the Sullivan County Commission’s endorsement. That moves it into the preliminary design phase.
A main focus of the grant is adding sidewalks along the Great Stage Road eastward, from where they currently end less than a block east of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse, to the road’s intersection with the Blountville Bypass and Blountville Boulevard. The sidewalks would then continue from that point along Blountville Boulevard to the Sullivan County Public Library. Crosswalks also will be added at appropriate points, some with beacon lights.
A secondary component of the plan will redirect southbound traffic around the historic district by making the Great Stage Road one-way, northbound (going toward Bristol) from State Route 394 to the Blountville Boulevard/Blountville Bypass intersection. That intersection’s traffic signal will be replaced by a roundabout. Making the roadway one-way will allow for creation of angled on-street parking and potentially also allow the addition of a bike lane.
Last week the Sullivan County Commission authorized implementation of the plan’s foundation, the “Better Blountville Vision Plan,” the banner under which TDOT awarded a Transportation Alternatives Program grant to the county.
After the grant was approved, the county put out a request for quotes from potential engineering firms to design the project, Sullivan County Planning Director Ambre Torbett said, and five respondents were narrowed to a list of two who were interviewed. County Mayor Richard Venable then selected Mattern & Craig of Kingsport to begin work on a design plan, Torbett said.
The grant allows a five-year window for completion of the project, Torbett said, and once the design is complete, construction will likely take about two years.
Making the section of road one-way will eliminate “downhill” heavy truck traffic from passing through the historic district. Folks in and around the courthouse and nearby historic sites such as the Old Deery Inn, the Rutledge House, and the Anderson Townhouse have said it’s not unusual to hear such trucks braking loudly as they approach the traffic signal at Highway 394. They also report heavy traffic shakes and rattles the old buildings, potentially damaging their foundations, and combined with the current limited roadside parking creates a potentially unsafe environment for student groups and other tourists visiting the historic sites.
All traffic approaching the area on State Route 126 from the north (coming from Bristol) would be directed onto either the Blountville Bypass to Highway 394 or onto Blountville Boulevard, which it could follow either all the way to Highway 394 at Food City or to Franklin Drive, which it could then follow to a traffic signal at Highway 394 — and beyond to Highway 75 via State Route 126.