Nearly two months have passed since the Tennessee Department of Transportation canceled a public hearing on potential improvements to State Route 126, but no new date has been announced for the hearing.
In answer to an inquiry from the Times-News last week, a TDOT spokesman said “it is a meeting that all parties want to have,” but no other information was available.
The newspaper had asked if TDOT could elaborate on what’s been going on regarding the SR 126 project in the last two months — and specifically, whether TDOT staff were re-working the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) that was to have been the focus of the public hearing originally scheduled for March 22.
The DEIS covers proposed improvements to an 8-plus-mile stretch of State Route 126 between Center Street and Interstate 81.
The document outlines how three alternatives would impact — among other things — homes, businesses, historic sites, graves, wildlife and plant life along the corridor. Total cost estimates, depending on which alternative is pursued, range from $0 (no build) to $120 million.
According to TDOT’s Web site:
• The DEIS was approved for circulation by the Federal Highway Administration on Jan. 5. Copies of the document are available for public inspection at Kingsport City Hall, the Kingsport Public Library, and at the offices of the Kingsport Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), at 201 West Market St.
• The State Route 126 (Memorial Boulevard) improvement project is a joint effort between the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
• This project is 8.4 miles long and extends from East Center Street east, along the existing SR 126 alignment, and terminates at Interstate 81.
• The purpose of the project is to provide a safe, efficient route for local traffic between the city of Kingsport and I-81. Improvements should be sensitive to the context of the different land uses along the corridor. Specifically, the improvements along the western half of the project, which is more commercial and residential than the eastern portion, should provide improved access to adjacent businesses and homes and improved pedestrian and bicycle connectivity. The improvements along the eastern half of the project should complement the rural nature of the area.
Also according to TDOT’s Web site, the needs of the project can be summarized as follows:
• The safety of the route needs to be improved. The crash rates observed along the entire SR 126 (Memorial Boulevard) study corridor exceeded the statewide average crash rates for similar roadway segments.
• The width of the roadway generally needs to be improved. Most of the existing roadway includes 11-foot-wide lanes with narrow shoulders.
• The width of the shoulders needs to be improved. The shoulders along the route are typically no wider than 2 feet and often not paved. The narrow shoulders, along with other existing geometric deficiencies, contribute to the high crash rates and create a less than desirable route for pedestrians and bicyclists.
• The geometry of the roadway needs to be improved. Numerous horizontal and vertical curves along the route are inadequate for the posted speed limit.
• Improved access management is needed along the commercial areas of the route. The public cited access onto SR 126 (Memorial Boulevard) as a major problem. Difficulty entering or exiting business parking lots was identified as a significant problem because of uncontrolled access to businesses along the roadway. Many of the access points are located near or within substandard curves or hills that limit sight distance for drivers attempting to turn into or out of the businesses.
• Improved response time for emergency vehicles is needed. With improvements, emergency vehicles would be able to respond more efficiently to emergencies within and near the project corridor. Wider shoulders would enable motorists to pull over and allow the emergency vehicles to pass through to their intended destinations. Current conditions along SR 126 (Memorial Boulevard) do not feature many areas for vehicles to pull over.
• Improved access for mail delivery is needed. Current geometric conditions along SR 126 (Memorial Boulevard) create bottlenecks during mail delivery. Wider shoulders would enable delivery vehicles to depart the travel lane and motorists pass more safely.
• Improved access for school buses is needed. Current geometric conditions along SR 126 (Memorial Boulevard) make it difficult for school buses to make turns. Wider paved roadway widths would improve accessibility for the school buses along the corridor.
• Improved traffic operations are needed along the route.
The 227-page DEIS remains available online at: http://www.tn.gov/tdot/SR126/.