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Johnson City Commission approves ETSU garage traffic signal for State of Franklin

March 21st, 2014 6:59 am by Gary B. Gray

Johnson City Commission approves ETSU garage traffic signal for State of Franklin

State of Franklin Road at John Robert Bell Drive as seen from Millennium Park (Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press)

The City Commission on Thursday approved construction of a $400,000 traffic signal project at the intersection of West State of Franklin Road and Harris Drive West and John Robert Bell Drive contingent upon East Tennessee State University’s construction of a new performing arts center on what is known as Lot 1 — an area between the Millennium Centre and Bank of Tennessee

The intersection is at the head of ETSU’s new parking garage, and city and university officials have been conversing about the need for new signals in the area to facilitate traffic to and from the new parking garage, the new performing arts center and current and future developments.

“ETSU is working real hard to get approval from the state to fund and construct the new center,” City Manager Pete Peterson said prior to the unanimous vote. “The university has asked for a resolution and a letter signed by the mayor stating whether the city would make improvements if the center is built on Lot 1.”

Johnson City Traffic Engineer Anthony Todd said the intersection would be fully signalized with traffic lights positioned in both directions on State of Franklin, and at the approaches/crossings of both Harris Drive and John Robert Bell. Todd said new four new crosswalks would be constructed and pedestrian signals would be installed.

“Generally speaking, the signal timing has been sequenced for vehicle traffic,” said Phil Pindzola, Public Works director. “Now, we obviously would adjust that to compensate for more pedestrian traffic.”

Pindzola said the intersection would cause traffic to slow and suggested the pedestrian bridge from the Millennium Centre to the ETSU campus be widened and upgraded. He also said the city needed to communicate clearly to both the Johnson City and ETSU police departments about the need to step up the ticketing of people not using crosswalks in place.

Commissioner David Tomita inquired about the speed limit in that area, which currently is 40 mph.

“I’d like to know why it hasn’t already been lowered,” he said.

Pindzola said the Tennessee Department of Transportation would have to approve any speed limit changes, but the process could be initiated soon after results from an ETSU traffic study are in, as well as estimated changes in signals for providing more time for pedestrian crossings.

There also was some talk about constructing another overhead walkway, but the conversation was quickly extinguished when an estimated cost of about $1 million was given.

Should all the dots connect on this proposal, 100 percent of the funding would come from the federal Surface Transportation Program, once properly justified by TDOT. When and if that happens, the Johnson City Transportation Planning Organization would modify its Transportation Improvement Program and send a recommendation to the state, which would then convey the request to the Federal Highway Administration.

Commissioners also unanimously approved a $417,200 sales agreement to purchase Kelly’s Foods on Sevier Street and open up another section of Brush Creek identified years ago in the city’s original downtown flood mitigation master plan.

The money, which will come from storm water fee reserves, will cover the purchase of five parcels at 101 Sevier St., demolition of buildings, material removal and floodplain enhancements.

“This is one of eight major elements of the city’s storm water master plan,” Pindzola said. “Will it still flood? Yes. But we’re improving hydraulics. We’re also wanting to increase the amount of flood storage with holding areas. This will look very much like the creek behind the Millennium Centre. By eliminating the bottle-necking — the culvert under Kelly’s Foods is three times smaller than that of the one emptying into Founders Park — we hope to gain control of the water.”

Pindzola said the Public Works Department had budgeted more than $700,000 for the project.

The Kelly’s Foods deal includes eliminating Casteel’s Roofing & Sheet Metal, which is situated between Church Brothers and Kelly’s Foods. Brush Creek also runs under that building. The city plans to eliminate parking spaces behind Kelly’s Foods to lower the area and increase water storage capacity. Though the creek will be opened up, it will not be getting any other amenities, such as the walls and other features at Founders Park.

Plans to do a land swap with Dennis Church, owner of Church Brothers Family Fun Store located near Kelly’s Foods at 917 W. Watauga Ave., are not expected to immediately pop up on the next City Commission agenda, but Pindzola said Church remains open-minded about the deal. The swap would include a proposed 7,500-square-foot replacement building for Church Brothers that would be positioned in such a way that Brush Creek could be exposed and rehabilitated to provide improved water flow into the new park.

Church would be completely responsible for building the new structure. He has been planning for several years to double the size of his business at the current location, where he has a long stretch of frontage on West State of Franklin. Those plans have been submitted to the city.

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