ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County officials fear a Highway 11-E improvement project from Morristown, through southern Hawkins County and into Greene County is pretty much dead after being “right-sized” by the state due to a lack of funding.
The Highway 11-E improvement project would start at the U.S. 25-E intersection in Morristown, and end at the Interstate-81 interchange in Greene County.
Hawkins County officials were told by the Tennessee Department of Transportation earlier this month there’s no funding available at this time to begin construction.
The project, which has been planned for about 15 years, would make all of 11-E between Morristown and the I-81 interchange in Greene County four lanes.
In Hawkins County a section of four lane would extend around the northern outskirts of Bulls Gap.
Hamblen County officials became aware that the 11-E project had stalled when they discovered it had been “right-sized” by TDOT — which is part of a state program for streamlining or eliminating road projects due to TDOT funding cuts.
Hawkins County Industrial Developer Lynn Lawson joined a group from Hamblen County, Greene County and Bulls Gap on a trip to Nashville Jan. 7 to meet with TDOT Commissioner John Schroer about the project.
Lawson told the Hawkins County Industrial Development Board Thursday that progress on the project has slowed, but according to the state, isn’t completely dead yet.
“(Schroer) said our project isn’t off the drawing board, but they’re looking at taking care of a couple of major intersections (on 11-E) where accidents occur, and make some repairs — still with the project going forward,” Lawson said.
A substantial amount of preparation work has already been completed on the 11-E project, including environmental studies and engineering for the first of three construction phases.
“They said that around 2014 they will begin buying right of way on the first phase and begin engineering on the second phase,” Lawson said. “Eventually they’ll move on to the third phase which is the one that affects us and Bulls Gap. It’s a $100 million to $110 million project and we’ll probably be getting $5 million or $10 million thrown into the project every year.”
Lawson added, “Some or all of us will be dead by the time the project is finished probably, but it’s still in the works.”
Hawkins County IDB chairman Larry Elkins said he feels the 11-E project isn’t being given a high priority by TDOT.
“I think the trip to Nashville kept this project alive, because in my opinion, it was dead,” Elkins said. “The trip to Nashville showed TDOT they had upset three counties, and ‘we better tell them we’re leaving it on the table.’ What really upset some of the folks in Hamblen County was the state had actually paid some of the industry over there to move because they were going to take their property in the road project.
“The company moved to Sevierville and took 50 jobs with it, and then they canceled the project.”
The project is important to Hawkins County because a proposed widening of Route 66 between Rogersville and Bulls Gap is contingent on the 11-E project being completed first.