Unicoi officials look for traffic improvements around Rocky Fork

Brad Hicks • Feb 26, 2013 at 8:54 AM

ERWIN — Unicoi County officials are anticipating that, once it opens to the public, the state park at Rocky Fork will attract numerous visitors, and officials want to ensure that traffic in the area flows as freely as possible.

At Monday’s regular meeting, commissioners present unanimously approved a resolution to request that the Tennessee Department of Transportation conduct a traffic study in the area, with an emphasis on the current connector route from Exit 50 of Interstate 26 to State Route 23 to the entrance of Rocky Fork. The resolution also supports the TDOT purchase and upgrade of the connector route from the interstate to State Route 23.

In October, Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander were in Unicoi County to announce that around 2,000 acres of the nearly 10,000-acre tract of property that makes up Rocky Fork will become Tennessee’s 55th state park. The Conservation Fund, which owns the property, is in the process of conveying the property to the state.

According to the resolution approved Monday, the Flag Pond community is connected from State Route 23 to Interstate 26 by a “potentially dangerous narrow road of 3/10 of one mile.” Unicoi County Superintendent of Roads Terry Haynes told commissioners Monday that improvements to the road would be an asset not just to those visiting the park, but residents of the county’s south end.

“I think it would be a valuable asset to those people up there,” Haynes said. “When the interstate went through, it just cut them off from the world up there. They’ve got to drive plum into town to get gas or bread or whatever, so if we get this open, maybe, someone will open up a store back up there because if this state park’s going to come into effect, they’re going to mostly likely have to have a camping store and some other items come in.”

Haynes also said two pieces of property in the Upper Higgins Creek area totaling around one acre would need to be acquired for the improvements, which Haynes said would be completed by the state if it takes the reins on the project. Haynes and Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch will be traveling to Nashville later this week to meet with legislators and discuss the items outlined in the resolution and the need for the traffic study.

As part of its approval of the resolution, the commission also approved a measure to submit a copy of the resolution to Alexander’s office.

The commission also approved a resolution to have the county participate in the Tennessee Correction Institute’s County Correction Partnership Initiative. Representatives from the TCI were in the county last month to discuss the initiative with commissioners.

Lynch said the initiative is a “proactive” step that will better aid the county in addressing jail issues when they arise. He also said the county’s participation will provide local officials with improved access to state jail inspectors, help the jail maintain certification and does not “lock” the county into the construction of a new jail.

The county’s participation in the program was recommended by a state jail inspector after a visit in November. The inspector also recommended that the county form a local jail committee, which will be tasked with providing suggestions and ideas on jail issues.

The commission also approved the formation of and Lynch’s appointees to this committee Monday. The committee will consist of the county sheriff, the sheriff’s department’s chief deputy, the sheriff’s department’s administrative assistant, the county commissioners, the county mayor or his designee, the county’s jail superintendent, the jail annex superintendent, the county’s Sessions Court judge, TCI inspectors, a jail specialist with the County Technical Advisory Service, the Erwin Police Chief, the Sessions Court clerk and the district attorney general or his designee.

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