BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission went on record Monday in favor of four-laning State Route 126 across Chestnut Ridge, between East Lawn Cemetery and historic Yancey’s Tavern — and ultimately all the way to Exit 66 of Interstate 81.
But comments and questions from commissioners made it seem not all of them were clear on exactly what they were voting for — or maybe against.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced last week that it has scheduled two public hearings regarding planned improvements to the 8.2-mile section of SR126 between Center Street and Interstate 81 for Dec. 11.
On Monday morning the public got its first look at a resolution about taking a stand on the issue, and county commissioners had their first public discussion of it.
The commission was asked to vote on the resolution immediately.
State Rep. Tony Shipley, first elected after a campaign that played heavily on community desire for improvements to SR126, told the commission that the timing was in order to get local support in place before the Dec. 11 public hearings.
“This is usual and customary for TDOT to ask for local bodies’ support and endorsement of the plan,” Shipley said.
Commissioner Matthew Johnson, the resolution’s sponsor, said the point of the measure is to “let TDOT know we are serious about upgrades to 126.”
The Times-News asked Johnson if the resolution’s call for a four-lane “solution” on the 8.2 mile stretch jibed with what TDOT will show the public on Dec. 11.
Co-sponsor Commissioner John Gardner told Johnson not to tell members of the media anything.
Johnson eventually said he couldn’t explain it as well as Shipley could.
County Mayor Steve Godsey said the resolution is just a recommendation for Shipley to carry to Nashville and present to TDOT to “let them know how important this is to us” and that the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen is going to do the same.
Godsey said TDOT “is not as aggressive” as the city and county would like for it to be on the SR126 project.
Kingsport Vice Mayor Tom Parham later confirmed to the Times-News that the city and county, along with Shipley and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, are working together to push TDOT to make SR126 four lanes from Center Street to Cooks Valley Road. Parham said local officials are confident there is enough room to four-lane the roadway without negatively impacting either East Lawn Cemetery or historic Yancey’s Tavern.
In other business Monday, the commission:
• Officially rejected a months-old proposal to reinstate a curbside brush pickup program through the Sullivan County Highway Department — a program that served some, but not all, county taxpayers for a few years before being eliminated by commission vote earlier this year.
• Approved plans to sell land in the Tri-County Industrial Park in Piney Flats to Bell Helicopter for an $11 million expansion of the company’s facility there. The commission also agreed to commit $195,000 in local dollars to try to secure a $1.2 million state grant to prepare the site for the planned expansion.