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New TDOT commish visits Town Hall

Newly appointed TDOT commissioner John Schroer promised to listen to local governments and residents about road projects, and at an open house last Thursday night, Knoxville-area residents gave him plenty to listen to.

Schroer made a stop at Farragut Town Hall Thursday, Sept. 29, during TDOT’s projects tour 2011.

“We’re here to listen,” Schroer said to a crowd of about 50, including local government officials and area residents.

Alderman Jeff Elliot asked Schroer, during a meet and greet period, about recent tree-clearing that occurred off Interstate 40/75, adjacent to Cotton Eye’d Joe’s Interstate sign.

“I have gotten several calls and e-mails from constituents about the clearing,” Elliott said in an e-mail.

Elliott also asked about future development along Outlet Drive, which is being extended to connect Lovell Road and Campbell Station Road. Elliott was concerned that TDOT crews would level trees along the road to make future businesses visible from the Interstate, as was done in Turkey Creek.

“The commissioner listened to my comments and reminded me he used to be mayor of Franklin, which he said has the strictest tree and sign ordinances in the state, so I was optimistic that at least these two issues will receive appropriate review and consideration,” Elliott said.

A.L. “Pete” Lotts questioned just what was TDOT’s stance on a high-speed railway. Lotts said the Norfolk Southern railway, even with recent improvements, wasn’t competitive with freight that travels on highways.

“It’s not competitive because it’s a 30 mile per hour system,” Lotts said, adding private and public investments should be made to the railway system to transform it into a high-speed freight system, or even a high-speed passenger rail.

“It’s costly, but not nearly as costly as building roads,” Lotts said.

“TDOT and the state of Tennessee need to get [railway operators] in conversation about this,” he added.

TDOT chief engineer Paul Degges said TDOT was looking at the truck traffic issue, and acknowledged Tennessee was a hub for freight.

“It’s a difficult nut to crack,” Degges said. The truck traffic issue wouldn’t be able to be solved just by Tennessee, he said, but would need to be addressed on a national level.

Finally, Mark McKinnon asked how TDOT would respond if federal funding dried up.

“We have no debt in our transportation department. We pay as we go,” Degges said.

That meant that if federal funding did drastically decrease, what money was left could still go to road projects, rather than debt service.

Schroer chimed in as well, saying he’d drafted a reduced budget for Gov. Bill Haslam that would encourage TDOT to operate more efficiently.

“Every dollar I save in any department doesn’t go to the state general fund; it goes to road projects,” he said.

Schroer and Degges also presented TDOT’s three-year plan for East Tennessee road projects, which included improvements to Alcoa Highway and interchange improvements at I-640 and Broadway.


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