The Washington Pike dilemma

Sandra ClarkNortheast Knox

Washington Pike from Interstate 640 to Murphy Road is congested. It’s dangerous. And it’s going to get worse. So why doesn’t somebody fix it?

Plans have been kicked around since 2001, maybe before. (See them here.) The sticking point is right-of-way acquisition.

And money. It’s hard to convert a two-lane road into four lanes with a center turnlane, shoulders, landscaping buffers and sidewalks/bike lanes. Homes sit back from the road, but not that far back.

At Wednesday’s public meeting at New Harvest Park, there was excitement and skepticism. City council member Lauren Rider caught the mood. “There’s a lot to be gained and the project is much needed. But there will be sacrifices, too.”

Harold Cannon, the city’s director of engineering, said a 2012 design has been reviewed and modified based on public input – particularly a “mask-to-mask” Zoom meeting in January.

“They told us they want a community transportation corridor, not an interstate,” Cannon said. “Tonight’s meeting is to make sure we listened well and incorporated their comments.”

Kevin Murphy, who restored his family homeplace on Washington Pike and Murphy Road, said the proposal requires the same amount of right-of-way even though sections have been reduced from five lanes to three. He said a wider road will increase noise in the mostly rural area and will attract developers to land outside the city in northeast Knox County.

While there is no change to the entrance to New Harvest Park, the plan calls for no left turn onto Washington Pike from one of the exits at the Target shopping center.

Another resident said the proposed storm water management will make some people’s property more functional. Another said he likes the sidewalks and multi-use paths that can be used by kids going to the park.

“The key is participation,” said Murphy. “Residents must plug in and attend these meetings.”

Meanwhile, Knox County Commissioners Richie Beeler (District 8) and Courtney Durrett (District 2) will meet for lunch at noon Monday, May 24, at Calhoun’s on the River to discuss development in the Washington Pike corridor.

Now there’s an idea. If the chief outcome of this road project is to open up northeast county land for development, then let the county share in the cost of widening the road.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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