Those changes are: The roadway that currently bears the State Route 126 designation (called “The Great Stage Road” or “Main Street” through the district) would become one-way eastbound (toward Bristol) from State Route 394 to the intersection of Blountville Boulevard and the Blountville Bypass; and that would mean another route around the district would be designated State Route 126.
There are two possibilities for the “new” stretch of State Route 126: Franklin Drive and the Blountville Bypass. The “preferred route” by designers at this point in the process is Franklin Drive. They cite several reasons for it being the best choice, including it already leads to a direct merger with current State Route 126 west of the historic district, it already has a traffic signal at its intersection with State Route 394, and it is the least expensive to get up to standard to serve as a state route.
But some area residents questioned how the road could handle the additional traffic. Others wanted to know if “Main Street” becomes one-way eastbound, would or could Franklin Drive — if it is designated State Route 126 — become one-way westbound. County officials said that is a possibility if that’s what the community wants.
Another major component of the plan is construction of a roundabout to replace the current traffic signal at the intersection of State Route 126, Blountville Boulevard, and the Blountville Bypass. The traffic circle would serve as the eastern end of the one-way section of “Main Street” and provide a way to divert westbound traffic to either Franlkin Drive (to continue toward State Route 126 and Highway 75) or the Blountville Bypass (to go toward Interstate 81 and Highway 11-W). A new connector road from the roundabout to Franklin Drive would take a portion of the parking lot of the Sullivan County Office Building.
The county’s planning office sent out 75 letters to residents and business owners in the immediate area of the proposed changes to announce the session on Friday.
Some attendees lived farther away but heard about the meeting and came to join the conversation. One of the questions was why the larger community was not notified, and some said the crowd would have been larger but most people have to work during the day.
County Mayor Richard Venable said he will likely plan another session and schedule it in the evening. Planning Director Ambre Torbett said the gathering of public input will continue throughout the summer. And both stressed the design is still in its early conceptual stages.
The issue isn’t new. The Times News published an article about the proposed changes in February 2017.
Torbett initiated the grant process in 2015, and the Tennessee Department of Transportation awarded the $1 million 80/20 grant to the county in 2016. The grant specifically is meant to address pedestrian and bike-friendly access, thus the focus on sidewalks and bike lanes. To add sidewalks to one side of “Main Street,” which has historic structures on both sides often within feet of current pavement, will take up room and right of way. That’s one reason for making the section of roadway one way.
Venable said the work will help make the historic district easier for visitors to navigate on foot, and that hopefully will encourage them to stay longer and see more — and eventually could boost commerce.
The work also will add several crosswalks. Venable has long sought one near the courthouse because there is so much foot traffic throughout the day between the courthouse and the bank across the street.
Sally Blackburn doesn’t live in town, but said she visits the post office — on Franklin Drive — daily and she is opposed to all the proposed changes.
Blackburn said Franklin Drive is heavily trafficked already and she often has to sit in line just to get in the post office parking lot. Blackburn said the county needs to stop thinking it’s going to grow Blountville into any kind of tourist destination and leave that to Jonesborough.
Venable said the main goal of this project is to improve safety and the quality of life for residents of and visitors to the Blountville Historic District.