A public hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at Bulls Gap School in which the Tennessee Department of Transportation will be soliciting input from the community regarding the new proposal.
Hawkins County Mayor Crockett Lee had been pushing for "Option C," which called for the new four-lane Highway 11-E to skirt the northern boundary of Bulls Gap. That version would also have cut through a residential area including a historic farm, however, which created some opposition within the community.
That's why TDOT has now added the fourth option, which extends Highway 11-E one to two miles deeper into the southern tip of Hawkins County.
Lee told the Times-News Monday that he recently met with Greene and Hamblen county leaders at the Tennessee Highway Commissioner's Office, and all three counties are endorsing the fourth option. Lee is hoping the community will come forward in favor of the fourth version as well.
"I'd like to see a big turnout in support of this fourth option at the public hearing Thursday," Lee said. "It's definitely the option most beneficial to Hawkins County. It'll miss that residential area and pass mainly through rural, unoccupied property.
"It's going to create a lot of prime developable real estate with four-lane highway frontage, most of which is vacant."
Lee noted that Option C, which had been the state's leading option, included that historic farm, which could have been a deal breaker for the project.
Hawkins County has been waiting a long time for this project to begin. If the four-lane Highway 11-E project is completed, the next goal would be a widening project for Route 66 from Rogersville south to the new four-lane 11-E.
Lee said that would give Rogersville a more direct four-lane access to Interstate 81 and hopefully prompt economic development in Hawkins County.
In the short term, however, the new Highway 11-E would be a big benefit to the U.S. Fence plant in Bulls Gap.
"U.S. Fence has been growing by leaps and bounds in the past few years, and with all the truck traffic coming into the plant, this is going to be a major benefit," Lee said. "But the main thing is giving the county better interstate access. Right now the only four-lane interstate access is at the two extreme ends of the county to the east and west."
Of the other two Highway 11-E rerouting options, one skipped Hawkins County completely, and the other only hit a small corner of the county near Bulls Gap.
There's no timeline as of yet for TDOT's final approval of the final 11-E plan.
"It's taken several years to get to this point," Lee said. "We'll get the community input Thursday, and from there it will be up to the highway commissioner and our legislators to get the ball rolling."