KINGSPORT - The Tennessee Department of Transportation recently issued a "ballpark" cost estimate of $91 million to widen Memorial Boulevard.
Over the past four years, the city of Kingsport has been pushing for improvements to an eight-mile stretch of State Route 126 or Memorial Boulevard - from Center Street to Interstate 81. A community resource team worked for nearly two years, studying the road and working to create a concept plan on what improvements should be done to the heavily traveled road.
The group recommended to TDOT Memorial Boulevard be four-laned from East Center to East Lawn Cemetery; from there the road should merge down to three lanes to Harrtown Road; and from Harrtown Road to I-81 the road should be two-laned with widened shoulders and improved curves.
In October 2005 TDOT accepted Kingsport's recommendation, and in June 2006 Gov. Phil Bredesen authorized funding to conduct an environmental study for the Memorial Boulevard project.
Bill Albright, transportation planning manager for Kingsport, said $500,000 has been provided to conduct the study, which will likely begin in the next four to six weeks.
"They'll look at the wetlands, historic sites and structures, the community impact, topography, animal and plant life. If there are issues, then they'll look to see how those will be addressed," Albright said. "(Depending on what they find) it could change the design of the road."
Albright said when he first heard of TDOT's estimate of $91 million for the project, he thought the figure was a little high. So did City Manager John Campbell. However, after crunching the numbers, Albright said TDOT is probably within the ballpark of what the project will cost.
"TDOT did a study of five-laning Memorial Boulevard 15 years ago, and it cost around $35 million. That study ended up on a shelf," Albright said. "Today if you look at the inflation factor, which is nearly 10 percent per year, and you start putting 10 percent onto (the $35 million figure) along with the cost of right of way acquisition and add five years to that figure from where we are from construction - I came up with $89 million, and (TDOT) was right. It may be a little high, but it's in the ballpark."
Although TDOT has authorized funding for an environmental review phase, the department has not approved funding for any other phase of the project. Albright said that's typical of TDOT.
"They're not going to commit to all of the funding right up front. It's a phased approach, and next year's legislative process will likely fund the next phase, which will be engineering," Albright said. "The positive thing is they're placing a price tag on it, because when they start doing that, that means they're getting more organized and serious about developing the (project)."