Tennessee state Rep. Nathan Vaughn defended his advocacy for the Memorial Boulevard improvement project in a talk to the Kingsport Sertoma Club Monday.
Vaughn, D-Kingsport, said he wasn’t “asleep at the legislative switch” regarding the highway project as 2nd House District Republican opponent Tony Shipley of Colonial Heights told club members last week.
“If people are going to be critical of me, that’s OK, but ... not much had gone on prior to when I was elected (in 2002),” Vaughn said. “How could people say that ‘Nathan you’re responsible for the failure of (Memorial Boulevard) not being rebuilt.’ ... But the lieutenant governor (Republican Ron Ramsey of Blountville) ... he has represented that whole road ever since he has been a state senator. ... (Republican) Representative (Jason) Mumpower (of Bristol) has represented the folks in that area for 12 years.”
Vaughn said he got the project rolling by getting the Tennessee Department of Transportation to make Memorial Boulevard a “Context Sensitive Solutions” effort including the ideas of many stakeholders.
Vaughn added that interim improvements — including center line rumble strips, guardrails and reflective markers — have made the narrow 8.8-mile road safer.
While 15 fatalities have been documented on Memorial Boulevard since 1999, Vaughn noted no one has died on the road in over a year.
“I hear people say the road is so much safer over and over again ... particularly for young, inexperienced drivers,” Vaughn said.
Last Thursday night, residents at an Indian Springs meeting hosted by Vaughn and TDOT voiced support for reconstructing the highway. TDOT also announced upcoming improvements to be made on the road in the Carolina Pottery area.
Shipley, in the initial phase of his campaign to unseat Vaughn, said TDOT official Ed Cole didn’t think Memorial Boulevard was a “priority to the community.”
Cole, TDOT’s chief of environment and planning, denied making that statement.
The differing accounts of what Cole said happened during a meeting held earlier this year in Ramsey’s office.
Mumpower, who was in the meeting, backed up Shipley’s version.
“Mr. Cole and others in the meeting did express they had not been pushed on this as a priority by (Vaughn). ... We were all saying it needs to be a priority,” said Mumpower. “Shipley was there on behalf of citizens interested in the project.”
Ramsey could not back up Shipley’s version of what Cole said.
“I don’t remember that statement being made, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t because I wasn’t in the room the whole time. I was in and out,” Ramsey said.
Aside from explaining his work on Memorial Boulevard, Vaughn told club members that the legislature is reaching a critical point in passing a state budget for the next fiscal year.
Tennessee’s budget situation, Vaughn said, is difficult because the state is losing millions of federal dollars for highways and children’s services.
“We are going to have a budget,” he explained. “It is going to be somewhat bare bones. There are not going to be a lot of new things happening as a result of this year’s budget. There will be a lot of people somewhat upset with us.”