Ellen Smith for Oak Ridge Rotating Header Image

Continuing discussions on next phase of Hwy 95 widening

TDOT has supplied notes on a recent meeting between the agency and Southwood subdivision homes, held in State Senator Ken Yager’s Harriman office on May 15.

TDOT recorded the following “Home owners concerns and requests regarding alternatives/design changes” (thiis is what the homeowners said to TDOT), but I have not yet seen TDOT’s analysis:

Health, noise and safety- Proposed road will not leave much room between houses and traffic lanes. The shifting of lanes towards houses will generate more noise and long exposure to it will affect health.

Existing tree lines in front of houses will be cut to build the roadway and slopes. Removal of this natural barrier will open the possibility of vehicles running over the slopes and landing on the backyard of houses. Guardrail does not provide good protection. A noise wall or any other kind of wall between roadway and houses will be an appropriate safety device. Buying houses close to the roadway is another alternative.

Roadway cross section, median ditch- Plan shows a median ditch from old Sweet Gum entrance to Southwood entrance but there is no ditch in front of Sweet Gum subdivision. Begin ditch form Southwood entrance to save property and trees. A flush median in this area can be an alternative. Would like an urban typical adjacent to the subdivision.

Roadway alignment- All ROW for building the road is taken from homeowner’s side whereas empty Federal land (DOE property) is available on the other side. TDOT can work with the Feds to secure property on the north side.

Communication gap- The subdivisions were built after the acquisition of ROW by TDOT. The developer Mr. J.W. Gibson did not pass the information about imminent road construction to them. The City of Oak Ridge on the other hand issued permits to build houses. The owners requested an electronic copy of the final deed between Mr. Gibson and TDOT.

Delaying the project- The project took several years to reach this stage. It can be delayed further for the changes they are requesting now.

Consideration should be given to any change that would lessen the project impact on the subdivision. Example: speed limit in the vicinity of the subdivision.

ADDED May 27th: Some people have asked about TDOT’s requirements for evaluating the impacts of highway projects. Here’s a link to their guidance on the subject: Tennessee Environmental Procedures Manual, Chapter 5



  1. Ray Kircher says:

    Ellen, do you know when Oak Ridge council first seen the current plan, how many years ago was the final product presented to council? I know that area and stretch of road enough to say Jim O’Connor’s comments about drainage is true and isn’t. His comment isn’t for the whole area, just a strip of land.

    I believe plans too old to meet concerns may be what TDOT is trying to push onto Oak Ridge citizens, or they already have a name for the new highway.

    We all know the chicken and egg mystery, this is clearly not that; rather, more citizens who feel the future TDOT plan is not what is right for Oak Ridge. This, as planned, will lead to a new connector to I-75 to I-40, say 2045 and many churches, schools, businesses, a warehouse row, and city; county; state; and federal buildings will be moved. I’ve seen it. How long do those citizens have before construction begins, if TDOT ever decides to do anything helpful and on time.

    Mr. Nicely Freeway, or imagine Charles “Bones” Seivers Toll Road, sounds like a choice for Good Old Oak Ridge?

  2. Ray Kircher says:

    Oh, and TDOT is only carrying a goose-egg with this plan.

  3. Ellen Smith says:

    I don’t know when the City Council first saw the plan. It has not ever been formally shown to Council during my tenure, but most Council members have seen bits and pieces of it. I don’t know if City Council was aware of the details during the period 2000 to 2008.

    The drainage aspect of the design is not related to the site. Rather, the idea is that the median serves as a drainage ditch for runoff from the paved roadway. The 48-ft width allows for a very gentle slope from the edge of the roadway to the center of the ditch — this is a design for a highway out in the “middle of nowhere”, not a road that passes residential neighborhoods.

  4. Ray Kircher says:

    Then the only approval needed is TDOT? Was there comments from them that it is the City of Oak Ridge’s plan? I understand James O’Connor’s job, but for him to sell any aspect of this expansion is not very representative of Oak Ridge citizens. The are many ways to mitigate water runoff.

    I question TDOT’s approval of this plan to support what the City of Oak Ridge asked in an expansion of this road; of course, that is what Knoxville residents have said about TDOT for decades now.

    As I understand Hwy. 95 is a Scenic Route, is this designation for that road being kept?

  5. Ellen Smith says:

    This is a TDOT project, not a city project. The city has supported the project for a long time (although I’m not sure that folks realized how destructive the design would be) and there has been consultation between TDOT and the city engineer, but the city has no approval authority over this type of project.

    Here’s a statement about the expected benefits of the road project, from a DOE land-use-planning report issued in 2002 or 2003:
    The first future upgrade involves adding two lanes to SR 95 between Wisconsin Avenue at the western edge of the City of Oak Ridge and its intersection with SR 58 (fronting along the southern edge of Parcel ED-1/the Horizon Center). When this is completed (not expected before 2010), a four-lane highway extending from I-75, through Clinton and Oak Ridge, to I-40 will exist. Having a four-lane highway span between I-75 near Clinton, Tennessee, and I-40 well west of Knoxville, Tennessee, will provide exceptional highway accessibility for the planning area, making it more attractive to industrial developers and customers.

    It’s not clear to me that the “scenic” designation symbolized by the Tennessee mockingbird signs has much meaning. If my memory serves, those signs were placed during Lamar Alexander’s governorship, and it’s likely that they have been forgotten. Anyway, the main impact of “scenic” designation is a ban on billboards, which Oak Ridge does not allow anyway (except for pre-existing “grandfathered” billboards).

  6. Ray Kircher says:

    Thank you Ellen, this helps a lot to undestand who is building this design. So another letter to TDOT explaining the oversized Hwy doesn’t fit with any future plans for Oak Ridge.

    It is really sad TDOT doesn’t look at the Blue Routhe anymore.

  7. Anne Garcia Garland says:

    In addition to the destruction that the oversized TDOT plan for this section wreaks, the 4-lane connection between I-75 and I-40 has another down side. While it shortens the route from each highway to the communities at the farther end of the connection, it also promotes a shortcut for lots of BIG trucks which now go through on the Knoxville interstate, the highway recently 8-laned over many years purportedly to handle all that commercial traffic. Why, one might ask, would those trucks go through communities with traffic lights instead of a relatively short distance around on high speed highways? As some have been doing for over 40 years already, to avoid the truck scales. If we get a freeway-style section of road, shouldn’t we also get a nice set of state truck scales and an inspection station?
    Let’s ask the state to reconsider its design. Sometimes we do go shopping for one thing and come home with a better one. This time we went shopping for a specific improvement and are being pressured to take what the store had on hand and which is worse than what we already have.

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