An open house in South Knoxville drew a crowd to scrutinize possible safety improvements to Chapman Highway.
Stretches of roadway without turn lanes. Speeding drivers. Multiple entry points for businesses. Misaligned roads. All are factors that make driving on Chapman Highway a nightmare for many who take the South Knoxville thoroughfare.
Officials have identified 47 possible projects to improve safety on Chapman Highway.
A crowd likely in excess of 15o people -- 134 signed in at the reception table, but an unknown number slipped in without registering -- showed up at South Doyle Middle School library Tuesday evening to review possible improvement projects and have their say in how the work should be prioritized.
They pored over maps and talked to planners and ranked their preferences for projects they’d like to see along the 6.2 mile stretch of the highway inside the city limits from the Henley Bridge to the area surrounding the interchange with Gov. John Seveier Highway.
“What I like about this process is that it’s using engineering data and public input to prioritize projects,” said City Councilwoman Stephanie Welch, who represents South Knoxville.
With an extension of the James White Parkway off the table, focus has shifted to increasing safety on Chapman Highway, which has seen 77 fatalities since 2005, though most of those have occurred south of the city limits where speed is a greater factor.
City officials and staff at the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization divided the stretch of highway inside the city into five segments. Each has its own issues, and each got a table in the library with a large map and a planner to answer questions.
Attendees were asked to choose between two road profiles -- one a four-lane highway with turn lanes, the other a four-lane highway with landscaped medians -- for each segment. The maps also identified intersections that would benefit from traffic signals and other improvements, as well as places where bicycle paths, sidewalks and transit stops would be feasible.
Though engineering solutions can be designed by professional staff, city Engineering Director Jim Hagerman said public input is important to determine which changes are preferable. “There are some proposals to close off some side streets, and we want to hear what they say about that,” he said.
Hagerman said the decisions made on one project would have ramifications on others. Redirecting side streets could change traffic flows in such a way that a traffic light or a turn lane might be warranted, he said.
“I’m concerned about being able to turn safely,” said David Payne, who lives in the Lake Forest neighborhood along a stretch of the highway with no turn lanes.
Turning on and off of the highway is a concern shared by others in attendance. “With as much traffic as there is and as fast as the traffic is, if you want to turn left out of a business, it’s almost suicide,” said Dave Lockwood, a University of Tennessee plant sciences professor.
Transportation Planning Organization Director Jeff Welch said planners had identified at least 47 projects that would improve Chapman Highway inside the city limits. Some, like adding turn lanes to stretches where there are none and improving the Stone Road intersection, are obvious priorities, he said.
Welch (who is not related to South Knoxville’s City Council representative) said obtaining rights of way from multiple property owners and relocating utilities are major challenges.
Finding the funding to pay for improvements is going to be a challenge as well. The City of Knoxville has made some improvements -- notably realigning Woodlawn Pike and the entrance to Fort Dickerson Park and work at the Blount Avenue intersection just south of the Henley Bridge -- but major work on the highway will require state dollars.
The state has authorized $45 million under the IMPROVE Act for improvements to the 10.28 miles of Chapman Highway from Blount Avenue to Seymour. Tennessee Department of Transportation Region 1 traffic engineer Nathan Vatter told the Knox County Commission on Monday that staff is compiling a technical report to identify the most pressing needs.
The city/TPO effort is a separate initiative, but Welch said the results will be shared with TDOT. “We want to have this information available to them as they finish up their study,” Welch said.
TDOT has already been addressing safety issues on the highway south of the city, spending $32 million on improvements on the stretch between Hendron Chapel and Simpson roads in Knox County, Evans Road to Burnett Lane in Knox County, and Macon Lane to Boyds Creek Highway in Sevier County. Work on those projects should be complete in the next two years.
Public officials and residents alike were impressed with the turnout and the collective interest in addressing the highway’s safety issues. “This is what responsive government is all about,” Payne said.
At-Large County Commissioner Larsen Jay said he’s always impressed by participation levels in South Knoxville. “I’m just glad the topic of safety is on everyone’s mind,” he said.