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Officials discuss pair of Highway 75 woes

April 29th, 2014 10:01 pm by Gary B. Gray

Officials discuss pair of Highway 75 woes

State and local officials meet to discuss water drainage and safety issues on Highway 75 Tuesday afternoon. From left, Daniel Oliver, TDOT Director of Project Development, state Sen. Rusty Crowe, and Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge. (Tony Duncan/John

Progress has a starting point.

On Tuesday that mark literally was in the Gray Fossil Museum parking lot. There — between sporadic rain showers — state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, County Commissioners Mark Larkey and Mike Ford, as well as Tennessee Department of Transportation officials, met to discuss plans to address stormwater issues in the Sulphur Springs area and dangerous road conditions near Daniel Boone High School.

The problem area for both issues are on or near Tenn. Highway 75/Suncrest Drive.

“Everybody is familiar with the ‘S’ curve on Suncrest near the high school,” Eldridge said while standing amid a circle of officials and media prior to a tour of the area. “There’s been a lot of safety concerns, and it is on the state’s priority list to straighten the road out and add shoulders on the highway from the high school west to Sulphur Springs.

“The second concern is the serious problems we’ve had in the area related to insufficient drainage. We want to try and see if there is a way to conduct a stormwater project in conjunction with the highway improvements, but he flooding issue is highest on our priority list.”

While the drainage pipes in the area are undersized and the lay of the land makes flooding a regular occurrence, Eldridge and county commissioners want to help, especially where water in the pipes back up and floods residential areas nearer Sulphur Springs

Steve Bordon, TDOT’s Region 1 director and assistant chief engineer, said runoff from the highway’s impervious surface was not a big contributing factor, and that if the roadway were to be improved, it still would not account but for a fraction of the flooding.

“Over the years, the traffic demand has increased,” Bordon said. “We’re blessed in East Tennessee with the mountains and scenery, but this also gives us a lot to deal with on our roads.”

While there is no specific stormwater plan on the drawing board, Washington County Highway Department Superintendent Johnny Deakins said the county has been working with the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization.

“We did develop a plan in 2008 for the road project which would be funded through the MTPO with 80 percent federal money and a 20 percent county match,” Deakins said. “It’s part of a long-range plan.”

He’s right about that. The highway fixes are on a prioritized TDOT list, which has the project slated for 2040.

That’s where Crowe comes in — to help push that date up, tie in a stormwater project, if possible, and to call for a increase on the 21.4 cents tax on each gallon of gasoline collected by the state for TDOT capital projects, if necessary.

“I’m here to see if I can help push this up,” Crowe said. “The local MPO and the county commissioners have to start it, and I’ll do anything I can from Nashville. It’s up to me to try to bring everyone together.”

The gas tax has not been raised since the mid-1980s.

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