ELIZABETHTON — Several members of the Carter County Tomorrow economic development group expressed sadness and surprise Monday that plans for the Northern Connector highway project is no longer being actively developed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The project has been on the drawing board at TDOT for over a decade as a possible bypass of heavily traveled West Elk Avenue and Broad Street.
The highway project was not part of the agenda for Monday’s meeting of Carter County Tomorrow, but member Richard Tester asked CCT President Tom Anderson about the status of the project.
“The Northern Connector is not on the table,” Anderson said. He went on to say there has been no official announcement from TDOT that the project has been shelved.
Plans for the Northern Connector have been plagued from its inception because of environmental concerns. These concerns included both geological and archaeological problems. The Northern Connector would have run along the north bank of the Watauga River in an area of karst terrain and several sites of early human settlements in the area.
“I am shocked,” local banker and Carter County Tomorrow member Joe LaPorte said.
Several members said they were surprised the state had recently completed a project to widen Lynn Avenue to five lanes and construct a new five-lane bridge over the Watauga River. This work was considered to be a key part of the Northern Connector project because it would have led to the main exit from the Connector to downtown Elizabethton. Without the Connector, many wondered why the widening of Lynn Avenue to five lanes was necessary.
On a related highway project, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey said the Gap Creek Highway improvements project “is still on the table.”
In other matters, Anderson said the “Red Energy” Project which would recycle used tires into diesel fuel remains a viable project. He said the problem of obtaining sufficient “feed stock agreements” remains the key that will unlock the major investments for the state-of-the-art technology.
Anderson said the feed stock agreements are being made with locations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina. He has been working on the project for more than a year.
Anderson said the capital investment in the project is in the $60 million to $100 million range. In addition, he said two ancillary companies may be a part of the new industry.
Another recycling operation is now on track after some early problems, Anderson said. The Highland Group has located in the former Smoky Mountain Books warehouse. He said the startup took longer because of some unforeseen problems, including the need for more electrical support.
Anderson said he was pleased with the response of the providers of city services in helping to get Highland operational. The company recycles plastic into a high grade product suitable for the pharmaceutical industry.
Anderson said the plans to expand Northeast State Community College’s presence at the Workforce Development Complex has been delayed because of administrative problems at the state level. He said the plans to install microbiology classrooms are now scheduled for the spring semester.
Chamber of Commerce Director Felicia English announced the dates for several upcoming events. She said Octoberfest will be Oct. 22. The lighting of the Fraser fir will be Nov. 15. The Downtown Christmas Parade will be Dec. 3 and the Chipping of the Green will be Jan. 7.
Correction: A quote about the Northern Connector project being taken off the table was attributed to Tom Anderson. The quote was made by Charles LaPorte. Anderson merely said he had also heard the rumors.