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John Thompson

Elizabethton Bureau Chief
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Former House speaker says Northern Connector not dead yet

August 24th, 2011 9:41 am by John Thompson

ELIZABETHTON — Rep. Kent Williams said the reports are not true that the Tennessee Department of Transportation has shelved plans for the Northern Connector project.
“I spoke with the project manager, John Barrett, on Tuesday afternoon and he told me everything is still on the table for the (Tenn.) Highway 91 improvements, including the Northern Connector and the Elk Avenue improvements,” Williams said.
Williams was responding to comments made in Monday’s meeting of Carter County Tomorrow, in which the economic development organization’s president, Tom Anderson, said the Northern Connector project was off the table.
“Tom is a great guy, a real asset to our community, but I just think he got some bad information on this one,” Williams said.
The project, which would provide a bypass on the north side of the Watauga River around heavily traveled Elk Avenue and Broad Street, has been on the drawing board at TDOT for well more than a decade. The project has been hampered by environmental issues, including limestone terrain and early human settlements.
Williams said Barrett told him a decision will be made next year on which of the Tenn. 91 improvements to pursue. Williams said the Northern Connector remains an option.
Williams said the heavy traffic on Elk and Broad require a solution from TDOT. He said TDOT’s synchronization of traffic signals on Elk Avenue helped, but the full impact of synchronization would only be felt with the rest of the Elk Avenue improvements.
Although the Northern Connector has had its share of environmental concerns, Williams said that is not unusual for highway projects in the area. He said the Gap Creek project has also been plagued by environmental concerns.
“There was a bat issue and when we got past that they encountered a watershed issue,” Williams said. Despite those setbacks, Williams said TDOT is making progress.

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