The Northwest Passage

Knox County road construction

The Northwest Passage

Long planned and delayed, in the next few years the extension of Schaad Road will create a major new corridor in Knox County’s fastest-growing corner.

by jesse fox mayshark • August 12, 2019

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(photo courtesy knox county engineering and public works)

On a map, the Schaad Road extension project looks elegant and simple.

A 13-mile, $75 million project that has already spanned two decades.

In a presentation county Public Works Senior Director Jim Snowden prepared recently, it shows up as a bright green line running from I-275 at the Callahan Drive exit west across Clinton Highway and Oak Ridge Highway to Middlebrook Pike, where it connects to Lovell Road and from there to I-40.

Once complete, the long-envisioned 13-mile highway will provide an alternative route across the fast-growing northwestern corner of Knox County, serving communities like Ball Camp, Byington, Karns and the scores of suburban subdivisions in between.

“It’s really going to make the side roads safer,” said County Commissioner Brad Anders, whose district includes most of the route. “A lot of people take those back roads that are narrow and shoulderless.”

Schaad Road Extension

A map shows the different phases of the Schaad Road Extension. Green sections are already complete.(Courtesy Knox County Engineering and Public Works)

As straightforward as it looks on paper, getting the road funded and built has been anything but.

The project has been in the works for more than two decades already; the first new four-lane section of Schaad Road was added between Pleasant Ridge Road and Clinton Highway in the late 1990s.

But even with about half of the 13-mile route still left to build, Snowden said the whole thing could be wrapped up in the next three to four years.

It all adds up to an estimated $74.9 million project, requiring right-of-way acquisitions and easements across 476 separate tracts of property.

“All told, if you’re looking at all those phases, that’s got to be the biggest (project) the county’s done,” said Brad Warren, the county’s chief operations engineer.

Thinking Big, Starting Small

As a concept, the Schaad Road Extension goes back to the mid-1990s. The idea was to connect the existing Schaad Road eastward to link up with Callahan Drive at Clinton Highway, and westward to Lovell Road at Middlebrook Pike. 

“That will give motorists a straight shot across the county,'' Metropolitan Planning Commision planner Mike Carberry was quoted as saying in a 1996 News Sentinel article. 

The first section, a four-lane divided highway between Pleasant Ridge Road and Clinton Highway, was completed in 2000, followed by four-laning Callahan from Clinton Highway to I-75, which was finished in 2003.

Another section of Schaad Road, from Oak Ridge Highway west to the Glenlake subdivision (just west of Amherst Elementary School), was completed in 2008. The planned route for the extension from there west to Middlebrook Pike is so well established that it is represented by a dotted line on the KGIS mapping system. (It’s marked as “rec-nb” -- recorded, not built.)

After a post-recession decade of inactivity on the project, that dotted line will start to turn concrete, literally, with construction of phases 2 and 3 over the next few years. That will add about 3.4 miles, at an estimated cost of $33 million.

The final section, Phase 4, will widen Schaad Road from Oak Ridge Highway to Pleasant Ridge. Although it will begin after phases 2 and 3, Snowden said it may finish at about the same time because it’s a shorter section. That would have the whole project wrapping up in 2023-24. Timelines are approximate, since the construction contracts haven’t been let yet.

The county project has been complemented by the state Department of Transportation widening Lovell Road heading north from I-40. The last piece, still to be scheduled, is completing the widening from Cedardale Lane to Middlebrook Pike. (The outsides-in construction of the entire corridor somewhat recalls the Transcontinental Railroad.)

Bits and pieces of the Schaad Road project have been showing up on recent Commission agendas. Last month, Commission approved right-of-way acquisition for Phase 4.

“The right of way out there will tough,” Snowden said, of widening the existing section of Schaad Road. “There’ll be probably 10 relocations, a couple of business relocations. If you drive that corridor, no matter which side you pick, those old structures are right up to the roadway.”

This month, Commission will vote on an agreement with the railroad company CSX, to pay for bridges over two railway crossings at Andes Road and Ball Road as part of the new section of Schaad Road, at a cost of $884,657.

Anders said the completed project will help traffic in his district. But, he noted, it will address just part of a larger problem.

“There’s traffic congestion all over the county,” Anders said. “We’re growing at a pace that we’re not keeping up with, infrastructure-wise.”