The mayors of Kingsport and Johnson City agree: Widening State Route 75 from Highway 36 to Tri-Cities Regional Airport is a top priority the two cities should be pushing the Tennessee Department of Transportation to complete.
“I think what we can do is certainly work with TDOT folks. The project keeps getting moved down the list, and we want to use (Lt. Gov.) Ron Ramsey and (state Sen.) Rusty Crowe and (state Rep.) Jason Mumpower to help us push that through to get it done,” Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe said. “Completing the road to the airport is a big deal. A two-lane road is not acceptable to go to a regional airport.”
This is just one of the ideas to come out of a recent joint meeting of the mayors and city managers of Kingsport and Johnson City.
The four men — Mayor Dennis Phillips and City Manager John Campbell of Kingsport and Roe and City Manager Pete Peterson of Johnson City — held a meeting last week to discuss areas of cooperation and projects the two cities could work to accomplish in the coming years.
The meeting came about after recent pleasantries from elected officials from both cities — in May, Phillips and Campbell attended the Johnson City Commission swearing-in ceremony, and in response to that visit, four members of the Johnson City Commission attended a July Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting where Phillips was sworn in to a second term as mayor.
Over the years, a perception among some people in the Tri-Cities region is that Kingsport and Johnson City have had a rivalry or were at odds with each other. Phillips said he never considered it a rivalry, rather a friendly competition.
“Being somewhat competitive with each other is beneficial because I think we all certainly want what’s best for our city first and foremost. We’re also elected to do things together when it benefits the citizens of your city as well as others,” Phillips said. “There are things we can do to maintain our individuality and work together that is a win-win for every city.”
Some of the ideas to come out of the recent joint meeting include:
•Creation of an Airport Authority to govern the airport.
•Creation of a Life Sciences Corridor in the region.
•Finding regional solutions to biosolids handling.
•Examine the need for widening and completing Interstate 26 (Appalachian Corridor B) into Ohio.
•Creation of a joint industrial park.
•Standardized building codes.
•Collective purchasing to achieve greater economies of scale.
•Working to combat federal legislation that could force states, cities and counties to collectively bargain with public sector unions.
Kingsport, Sullivan County, Bristol and Bluff City joined forces a few years ago to form NETWORKS, a joint economic development organization aimed at creating business and industrial parks within the county. Presently, NETWORKS owns or is in the process of owning three such parks — one in Kingsport, one in Bristol and a third at the airport.
One of the ideas to come out of last week’s meeting, a joint business park owned by Kingsport and Johnson City, could eventually lead to Johnson City joining NETWORKS permanently.
“Could we ever? The answer is probably ‘yes.’ Anytime soon? I’m not sure,” Phillips said. “A few success stories at NETWORKS will encourage enthusiasm throughout the entire Tri-Cities, and I think we have to keep our mind open to this.
“I think we should always remain open to working with our sister cities when advantageous to all of us.”
The mayors and city managers of Kingsport and Johnson City plan to hold monthly meetings, possibly bringing in the leadership from other cities and counties, such as Elizabethton.
“One of the things we didn’t get to the other day was cooperative buying. I want to see if we can buy gasoline and get futures on that for the whole region,” Roe said. “We use about a million gallons a year, and Kingsport probably uses a similar amount. We spend a million dollars more, and we’re not getting one thing else for it.
“What I’d like to do is see if we can cut a few cents a gallon if we buy cooperatively, to help us all.”