TDOT gets roads ready for Amazon

Nick Della VolpeUncategorized

The Mall is gone! Like the ’70s folk song about Paradise’s coal, Developer Hillwood’s trucks done hauled it away…

The 960,000 square foot East Towne Mall opened in 1984 and closed in early 2020, after nearly 40 years. Last year, the site was purchased from an interim owner by developer Hillwood Enterprises in order to take advantage of its superior road location to build a then-unspecified, internet sales fulfillment center. One could readily picture an Amazon marquee in the wings.

Fulfillment Center. The mall buildings have now been demolished and hauled away to landfills. (See current site photos below) Grading and underground drainage utilities have been underway this summer with a near-term start of new construction of buildings to house an Amazon fulfillment center targeted for completion as soon as spring 2022. The $30+ million project will include warehouses, truck bays with roads and parking, and administrative offices. The new center would handle the so-called last-mile delivery of packages. During the zoning process, owners projected creating some 730 permanent jobs (at least $15/ hour) by the completed facility.

Roads. Nearby, TDOT is busy widening the exit ramps and related roadway from I- 640 to Millertown Pike and Washington Pike. Anyone passing that area at rush hour has witnessed cars backed up on the freeway ramps and clogging the receiving roads – a hazardous condition where high-speed traffic comes in close contact with nearly-parked cars, awaiting a green light. The cost of the TDOT road work is estimated to be some $4 million, with a targeted completion date of May 31, 2022.

Also scheduled by TDOT is the reworking (not just repaving) of the eastern half of I-640, that bumpy, potholed jawbreaker of a road from I-40 east, near exit 394, to beyond the Broadway exit and I-275 interchange. The western half of that road has already been repaved this year.

The eastern segment needs more.

TDOT engineers say that the concrete subsurface of the roadbed, which dates back to the late 1970s, keeps shifting due its weak soil/ clay substrate. To fix it, they plan to “rubblize” that underlying concrete (crush concrete into smaller, supporting rock base) before repaving the surface. TDOT says the construction contract should be let this December, and will take at least a year to complete. Estimated cost is some $25 million. In the meantime, drivers must endure the bumpy, bone-rattling potholes and shimmy shakes on the way to work or home.

Local city roads will also get some improvement. The city of Knoxville plans to widen Washington Pike out toward Murphy Road. This $20 million project has been talked about for several years, and is planned to address the rising traffic from the growing population to the east. It’s a big undertaking and will likely be done in several phases, as funding allows. (Previous story here)

Millertown Pike will also be widened eastward from Loves Creek Road to the RR bridge. The $1.5 million project will add a third lane and sidewalks or greenways as a part of the plan that picks up at the terminus of the TDOT work at Loves Creek.

It is not clear whether the Amazon project will eventually necessitate a change to the frontage road between Millertown and Washington Pike.

Various angles of flattened site of former mall:

Nick Della Volpe is a lawyer, a gardener and a former member of Knoxville City Council.

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