The conference room at Cleveland Regional Jetport was the setting for a short, but welcomed and informational meeting Thursday in which local government officials learned of more than $10 million in planned safety upgrades on U.S. Highway 64 in the Ocoee River Gorge.
Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer informed officials from Bradley and Polk counties he would use $10.1 million from his budget to upgrade 11 spots along the roadway.
TDOT Region 2 Community Relations Officer Jennifer Flynn said the work should begin within the next two weeks.
“The road will stay open during the safety upgrades,” she said. “We’re very concerned with the safety of the road and we want to make sure we take care of the road while the Corridor K project moves forward.”
State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland representing the 24th Legislative District, said he joined state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland representing the 22nd Legislative District, and the area’s two state senators in thanking TDOT for the positive update.
“Corridor K plans will proceed, but it will take many years and many dollars,” Brooks said. “But, the need for safety on these Tennessee roads is now and should not wait for future plans or future funds. I applaud TDOT Commissioner John Schroer for taking this bold step toward safety and investing $10 million immediately along this route to make this a safer place to visit, work and raise our families.”
Watson, a longtime proponent of safety along the congested Highway 64, said TDOT’s commitment to the busy Polk County thoroughfare is welcome news not only to him, but to his district’s constituency as well.
“Those who travel Highway 64 are those who best know of its challenges to safety for the motoring public,” Watson said. “This [TDOT announcement] is certainly welcomed news that comes at a time when I know many people will be glad to hear it.”
State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville who represents the 9th Senatorial District, applauded the state commissioner’s commitment to roadway safety along the busy corridor.
“I’m thankful that Gov. Bill Haslam and Commissioner Schroer have recognized the need for improvements on this road,” Bell told the Cleveland Daily Banner early today. “The people of southeast Tennessee and Polk County have seen these safety issues for years. I am extremely thankful, as are I’m sure the people who live in that area and who regularly use Highway 64, for the state’s commitment to attempt to address these problems on Highway 64.”
Like Watson, Bell has been a proponent of the route’s safety improvements.
State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga who represents the 10th Senatorial District, also told the Banner early today that thousands of motorists each month will benefit from the scheduled safety improvements.
“I’m really glad Commissioner Schroer and Gov. Haslam have chosen to take these actions,” Gardenhire said. He is not only concerned about the public’s safety, but also his own family’s.
“... My wife has to drive that road once in a while for her job,” Gardenhire said. “Her safety is just as important to me as the safety of all Tennessee residents and anyone who travels along Highway 64. I’m extremely happy they’re committing this money to fixing these safety problems.”
The Corridor K project initiated in late 2008 is in the National Environmental Policy Act phase. That phase, tentatively scheduled for completion in Spring 2014, was pushed back to Fall 2016. Shifts in the project have occurred because of extensive agency coordination and technical analyses that were required during the project development.
“Basically, it’s such a complicated project that the more we delved into it, and started working with the multiple agencies involved ... we just need more time to get everything done the right way,” Flynn said. “In the meantime, we are very concerned with safety along Corridor K.”
Flynn said she did not know all of the details of the improvements, but some work items include guardrails, pavement markings, signage and shoulders in some areas to make the roadway wider and possibly cutting back some curves.
“Just something we can get in there and do that won’t entail a total closure of the road,” she said. “We want to do what we can. We don’t want to sit still and do nothing while the Corridor K project works its way through all these processes it has to go through. The commissioner wants to make sure that as a department, we do the best we can with the road that is there right now.”