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What’s next now that the “Orange Route” is dead?

Map showing the proposed Knoxville Beltway in Anderson, Knox, and Loudon Counties, Tennnessee

"Orange Route" for the now-cancelled Knoxville Beltway

It’s true — as the Knoxville News Sentinel predicted Friday morning, TDOT killed the Knoxville Beltway project! This means it’s now up to the region to  find creative solutions to congestion on the highways — but it should mean that money that might have gone to the road project will now be available to help implement those solutions.

I’m pleased to see the Orange Route proposal come to an end, but I’m not real surprised. Last year, in a presentation on Knox metro transportation plans, this project was listed under the 2034 timeframe — about 25 years in the future. I figured then that it would never happen, particularly in view of society’s recognition that  to achieve energy independence and address “greenhouse” warming we need to greatly reduce our reliance on gasoline.

The bypass was supposed to relieve congestion on I-40 and I-75 by diverting some thru traffic — particularly on I-75  — around Knoxville. The trouble with that plan is that much of the traffic congestion on Knoxville’s interstates is due to local traffic, not long-distance travelers on the Interstate. I presume that’s one of the main reasons why the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s new analysis found that the beltway wouldn’t divert enough traffic to serve its purpose. Furthermore, there’s plenty of evidence that new highways in urban areas actually generate new traffic due to the growth (urban sprawl) they induce.

Now that the state isn’t planning a new road, I believe the region needs to push for things like more and better local transit, HOV lanes (or possibly express lanes for through traffic) on the Interstates, promotion of carpooling, more of those Intelligent Transportation Systems  (ITS) signs that give the travel time to various destinations, other ITS measures, and improvements to local roads so drivers will have more route choices. I hope the whole Knoxville region can work together to get the resources allocated to these kinds of changes — and to make them work once they are funded.

What does this mean for Oak Ridge, in particular? I’m not sure, but I think it would have been a mixed bag, probably with more minuses than pluses. On the minus side, being “outside the beltway” (to borrow a phrase from Washington, DC) is is a minus for local economies, as limited-access highways can form significant physical and psychological barriers to local travel. However, the Clinch River (which is far more attractive than a highway) already separates Oak Ridge from Knoxville in much that same way, so a new road might not have significantly reduced Oak Ridge’s access to the Knoxville market. The Orange Route  exit at the Pellissippi Parkway just beyond of Solway (see map) would have adversely affected Oak Ridge by forming a preferred location for retail business that is outside the city limits, yet very close enough to divert customers away from Oak Ridge (like moving Turkey Creek closer to Oak Ridge). Anderson County would gain an additional Interstate exit that would not really increase Oak Ridge’s access to the Interstate, but where new businesses could generate new tax revene for the county (a small part of whch would come to Oak Ridge). Perhaps most importantly, the Orange Route would have reduce driver interest in using Oak Ridge Turnpike as a de facto  bypass. Without the bypass, I guess I may have to laughingly agree with the jokesters who have suggested that the most important purpose of traffic enforcement cameras is ro prevent  people from using Oak Ridge as a bypass.

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One Comment

  1. Raj says:

    Ten years back when the plan was hatched I-40 x I-75 were going to be a part of the NAFTA corridor with value added industries along the route. That did not materialize due to representatives from other states doing a better job.
    We will see an increase in truck traffic through Oak Ridge both on Illinois due to widening of SR-62 from Wartburg and SR-58/SR-95 in a couple of years. We could benefit from this pass through traffic in our town if we have a couple of full service truck stops at the outskirts of town.

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