The City Commission unanimously approved an application for a $2 million federal grant Thursday that, if awarded, would pay the majority of costs for construction of the new Veterans Affairs Hospital Connector.
The new two-lane access road, complete with sidewalks, would improve access to workplaces and medical services for veterans, students and employees and run from U.S. Highway 11E (West Market Street) near Indian Ridge Road. It would continue along Meredith Street and enter the VA campus on its southwest side.
It’s not a sure thing, but should the city be awarded the grant, $1.6 million would come from the federal level and $400,000 would be provided by Johnson City in matching funds. The project’s estimated total cost is about $3.8 million.
“We’ve been involved in this since 2003,” said City Manager Pete Peterson. “We currently have funding in place for design, and we’re coordinating right-of-way acquisition.”
The Tennessee Department of Transportation, which is in charge of the project, has gone through the environmental review process. Once the project is completed, new traffic patterns are expected to develop, reducing the number of trips and turning movements on U.S. 11E and Tenn. Highway 381 (West State of Franklin Road) with Oak Drive, which is at the western entrance to the VA campus; and the intersection located at the southern entrance at Tenn. 381 with Greenwood Drive/Lake Street.
Johnson City Transportation Planning Coordinator Glenn Berry has said safety improvements will also be realized by reducing the need to cross Norfolk Southern Railway’s mainline track of the Crescent Corridor at the southern entrance to the VA. He said the section of West State of Franklin around the VA campus is very near capacity, and the new access road will help eliminate some of that traffic and some of the busiest turning movements at one of the busiest intersections.
In 2003, the project received funding in the form of a $852,000 Transportation System Community Preservation grant and about $900,000 from the High Priority Project grant program. The additional $2 million is needed to fund construction and contingency costs.
Commissioners also talked about the importance of dealing with synthetic drugs.
The issue is part of the Tri-Cities Joint Legislative Policy shared by Kingsport and Bristol. The policy, which will be sent to state legislators Jan. 6, states that the over-the-counter synthetic drugs such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana are proliferating in communities and jeopardizing the health and safety of the public.
Peterson said he hoped the Legislature would adopt broader laws, such as those in place in Virginia, that ban any formulas designed to emulate illegal recreational drugs.
“We’re all very hopeful we can get something done,” Peterson said.
Commissioners also decided the city should get a bid package put together as soon as possible to replace the left-field fence at Cardinal Park. There is concern that the process may be too time consuming to be completed by the start of the Johnson City Cardinals’ 2012 season. At this point it still is unclear if a special called meeting might be necessary to move this effort along.