Sullivan officials discuss "driveway" to West Ridge

Sullivan County officials discuss constructing a 'driveway' to the new West Ridge High School.

A meeting on the last-minute plan for traffic flow at West Ridge High School revealed that it can’t be completed before the school opens in August. After the meeting was delayed a half hour for a commissioner who never arrived, and delayed again for someone from the county highway department who also never arrived, it was adjourned to a later date, further delaying completion of the plan.

The utter failure of the Sullivan County Commission to fully support its new high school is a black mark that cannot be erased. But if the traffic mess that results causes injury, the county, on behalf of its taxpayers, may pay for this debacle despite legal advice to refrain from even calling safety into question.

The school needs safe and adequate access to and from four-lane Airport Parkway, which immediately connects to Interstate 81, for most of West Ridge’s traffic. The school fronts on Lynn Road, a secondary, two-lane highway with sharp turns not built for school buses — never mind the huge traffic flow from nearly 2,000 students — which ends at Airport Parkway.

This was obvious from day one more than five years ago, but the commission time and again refused its responsibility to ensure safe and adequate access to a model new high school, one of the largest in Northeast Tennessee, from Airport Parkway to the school’s front door. Nor will the last-minute plan significantly improve the situation.

That proposal adds a second access point to the high school, a paved “driveway” to connect to another secondary road, Henry Harr Road. But after a short distance, Henry Harr Road dead-ends into Lynn Road. After the driveway is built, that seems likely to create a congestion point by combining traffic from the two entrances of the school at an uncontrolled intersection that continues as a secondary road.

It also creates a huge problem on campus in managing traffic coming and going from two entrances in a limited area. This was a major point of concern addressed at the meeting, which included school officials, the county’s purchasing agent, a representative of an engineering firm, the lead architect for the school and a county commissioner.

They discussed the need to include a “turnaround” to manage traffic flow across the campus between the two access points, both of which will be gated; the “rear” entrance off Henry Harr Road will likely be closed during school hours. They also discussed whether a curb will be required along the paved driveway, and if so, how far. Another issue is whether to allow for parking along the driveway for large events at the school and whether lighting will be required as people park and walk along the driveway at night for events such as ball games.

County commissioners recently approved use of up to $200,000 to retain the engineering firm to design the improved access, a concept endorsed by the Sullivan County Board of Education a week earlier. But the paved driveway off Henry Harr Road won’t likely be finished before the school opens in August, according to the engineering firm hired to design it.

It’s too little, too late. It doesn’t resolve the issue, which will continue unless and until commissioners step up. We’d love to say we have hope that they will. But to date, they just continue to disappoint.