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Traffic congestion heading out of town in the p.m.

Grumble, grumble, grumble… Just about everybody who lives or works in Oak Ridge knows about the growing problem of traffic congestion at the Solway bridge and Solway around 5 to 6 pm weekdays. This could be resolved, of course, if more of the people who work in Oak Ridge also lived in Oak Ridge. The Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce seems to be making some inroads on that front with its “Live Where Your Work” effort, but packing up and moving isn’t a practical option for everybody who’s here now. Instead, many people who work at ORNL have been going home “the back way” by taking Hwy 95 to the I-40 interchange near Lenoir City. That route is getting clogged, too… Late in the day Thursday when I drove “the back way” from ORNL to downtown Knoxville for a session of the MTAS “Elected Officials Academy”, it took me a full 10 minutes to go the first mile on Bethel Valley Road (from the ORNL west entrance to Hwy 95) — traffic was backed up a long way from the intersection, waiting to turn left. This was the third weekly class, and the situation has gotten worse each week — probably due to more and more people avoiding Solway each week. The delay was still less than I’ve sometimes experienced around Solway at that time of day, but still…

I keep looking for billboards saying “If you lived in Oak Ridge, you’d be home by now,” but the Oak Ridge residential developers who advertise in Solway have been more subtle than that. I don’t much like the idea of making it easier for people who work in Oak Ridge to live elsewhere, but this congestion is making a lot of people eager for some sort of transit on the Pellissippi Parkway corridor — one of the things that Gary Gilmartin and the Oak Ridge Energy Corridor partnership are discussing. I just hope that the initiative also ends up benefiting people who live in Oak Ridge…



  1. Sean says:

    Anything that helps people get from ORNL to Knoxville will also help those of us who commute from ORNL to Oak Ridge. When people are backed up on Bethel Valley Road, waiting to get on the Pellissippi Parkway, we’re waiting right along with them, waiting to make our left turn onto Scarboro Road. If that congestion could be reduced, our commute becomes that much shorter as well.

  2. Ellen Smith says:

    Yes, reduced congestion helps everybody. I also get stuck in traffic heading to Oak Ridge from ORNL. What’s new is that both directions on Bethel Valley Road now get clogged at certain hours of the day.

    I can’t help but recall that ORNL had more employees when I went to work there than it does now, but we didn’t have these kinds of traffic problems. A much higher percentage lived in Oak Ridge back then, and a big fraction of the employees were in car pools or van pools, or took privately operated buses. We need to start doing that again, but it’s harder to organize when we no longer live close to many of our coworkers. (We had a carpool with 5 people living in the same neighborhood who worked in the same building, but all but two of the people who were in that carpool at various times have retired, and only 3 of us still live in the neighborhood.)

  3. Gary Gilmartin says:

    Our Energy Corridor Transportation Project is intending to to reduce the congestion, particularly with Intelligent Transportation Demonstrations but all folks should be aware that it is a fully integrated project with Walk, Bike, Park (solar charging) and ride options. One of the discussion items during our last meeting was how it will allow folks to “keep” their parking spots and still ride into Oak Ridge from ORNL and Y12 for lunch and hopefully to shop a bit. It’s hard to argue with enabling the 9000+ folks to visit the city for an hour or so at lunch or during the day.

  4. Ellen Smith says:

    Thanks for the information, Gary. I look forward to those intelligent transportation options.

  5. Lois Martin says:

    If my memory serves me correct, Peggy Hanrahan had a bulletin board about 8-10 years ago in Solway that said “If you lived in Oak Ridge, you would be home by now”.

    One argument that is made against Oak Ridge is that taxes are higher. Even if it’s true, people need to consider the gov’t mileage rate multiplied by the miles they commute to Oak Ridge. The $$$ spent commuting is far greater than any tax difference. People often look at the price of gas only when factoring the cost of their commute, using the gov’t mileage reimbursement rate is far more accurate.

    The hard part is presenting that argument in a snazzy, graphical, easy to understand manner.

  6. Tom says:

    Maybe folks don’t live in Oak Ridge for other reasons than just the cost (reason enough)? How about an insular community, arrogantly steeped in its own “greatness & indispensability”, and simply stuck-up?

    Maybe some of us just want to get back to the “real world” of #1. a bigger metro where normal folks hang out, or #2. our own private refuge out in the country, with some solitude away from over-educated & over-paid big egos?

    Why don’t you sinecured guys stop making excuses and just build out more & better roads to your little kingdom?

  7. Rob Gunter says:

    Greetings All, I have had discussion with people interested in putting in a parking lot to let people ride their bikes into the Lab. It would be AWESOME if we could incorporate this into a bicycle path plan for the entirety of Oak Ridge. Also, for most people the taxes are only marginally (if at all) higher if they live in Knoxville. Face it folks, taxes on Oak Ridge, though high for the region, are laughable on a National scale. Besides there are plenty of low cost homes in Oak Ridge. Low cost X high(?) tax rate = low taxes…..

  8. Alan Stagg says:

    The traffic jam at Bethel Valley Road and Hwy 95 could be greatly improved by putting a light at this intersection. This would allow drivers leaving the lab and turning left onto 95 to turn without stopping when the light is green. This is such an obvious problem, and the solution is equally obvious. Why has this not been done?

  9. Ellen Smith says:

    Alan, I can’t say “why this hasn’t been done,” so I posted your question at http://sustainability-ornl.org/issues/questions. The question probably won’t appear on that page for a couple of days (a moderator needs to approve it first), but I’ll be interested in seeing if we get an answer!

  10. Ellen Smith says:

    I got an answer for you, Alan. this is from Chris Patton at ORNL:

    That intersection and adjoining stretches of road are owned and managed by the state. ORNL has no jurisdiction to install a stoplight there. However, ORNL has been communicating with the state in an attempt to have them address the issue. In fact, ORNL recently conducted traffic flow studies there in order to make a good case and justify the need for some type of modifications.

    The results of the study have been received, and ORNL is preparing to communicate with the state to express our concerns and request the issue be addressed. In the meantime, the Safety Services Division continues to publish safety information about this, and other intersections.

  11. Alan Stagg says:

    Ellen, thank you very much for looking into this. I will look forward to resolution of this annoying and potentially serious problem, hopefully before an accident forces the issue.

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