Red light project for I-81 Exit 69 about to begin

J. H. Osborne • Oct 10, 2012 at 10:16 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Nearly one year after the Sullivan County Commission voted to accept state installation of a red light at Interstate 81’s northbound Exit 69 off-ramp and Highway 394, County Mayor Steve Godsey announced Wednesday that the project is about to begin.

The commission’s vote came last November despite some commissioners’ obvious confusion about which side of the interchange would be getting the new signal, and the county’s top planning official speaking up to say she’d not been aware of the proposal until the commission was about to vote on it.

Godsey told the commission back in November 2011 that the matter had to be voted on that day and told some questioning commissioners they really “don’t have a dog in the race” because Highway 394 is a state road and the state can do as it pleases.

The resolution indicated the county would pay to maintain the signal and pay the electric bill for its operation — but no cost estimates were included.

County Planning Director Ambre Torbett pointed out the state was in fact seeking the county’s OK through the resolution Godsey was pushing commissioners to vote on immediately.

Torbett said she was surprised by the proposal, and she questioned why it had not flowed through what she described as the normal process for such projects — which would have seen it coming to the commission after going first to a local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

Godsey said perhaps it had been approved by an MPO and Torbett just didn’t know about it. Godsey said he’d been working with the state regarding the red light for a year and a half. Torbett said she’d been working with the state regarding a traffic signal expected to someday be installed a short distance from the I-81 off-ramp where Highway 394 intersects with an access road to land intended for commercial development.

Torbett said she attends Bristol MPO meetings, and the project had not been brought to that group for consideration or approval. Godsey then said he was informed about the project by the Kingsport MPO.

Godsey at first told commissioners the new red light would be at the bottom of the exit ramp that brings traffic coming from the north (Bristol) down to Highway 394. Godsey said the red light is needed to ensure traffic can turn left once it reaches Highway 394. Later comments indicated the red light will in fact be, as stated in the resolution, at the bottom of the ramp that brings traffic coming from the south (Colonial Heights) to Highway 394.

If that traffic turns left, it goes away from the Blountville Historic District — where most county offices are located — and travels toward Highway 11-W. That’s toward the area where a commercial landfill, under development at the time of the commission’s vote, opened for business earlier this year.

Godsey issued a press release to area media outlets Wednesday stating his office has received information from the Tennessee Department of Transportation that the state agency’s plans for improvements to Exit 69 have been finalized.

“The off-ramps will be widened, and traffic lights are also being installed,” the release, signed by Godsey, stated. “This project is expected to be completed by May 31, 2013.

“A safety project at the intersection of State Route 1 and Central Heights Road has also been approved. TDOT is scheduled to contract these improvements by Oct. 26 with a completion date of July 31, 2013. The improvements will include school zone flashing beacons for the elementary school, left-turn deceleration and acceleration lane in the median, and a right-turn deceleration lane at Central Heights Road.

“Also incorporated in the safety project will be a relocated median opening to serve the Department of Safety Driver’s License Office and left-turn deceleration lanes to the new crossover.”

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