Significant area-wide projects near fruition

Gary B. Gray • Dec 31, 2013 at 9:16 AM

Residents in area counties and cities will see some major projects finished in 2014, beginning withtwo improvement districts and the completion of two phases of walking and bicycle trails top the list of projects in Elizabethton.

The two improvement districts are the West Elk Avenue Redevelopment District and the Downtown Central Business Improvement District.

Elizabethton Planning Director Jon Hartman said he has been working closely with the Downtown Business Association to establish the new downtown district. He said state law will allow representatives of the local business owners to operate the CBID after the City Council approves the proposal. Under the plan, local business owners will be assessed fees that will be used to improve and upgrade the central district.

The West Elk Avenue plan will be run as a tax increment financing district. It would extend from the Watauga River waterfront south to the businesses along West Elk Avenue in the vicinity of the former rayon plants. The plans are to establish an upscale retail and residential neighborhood along the riverfront, anchored by a state-of the art fish hatchery that has been proposed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Hartman said he is working with Carter County Tomorrow economic development organization President Tom Anderson on the project and a feasibility study should be conducted during the year. He said getting Gov. Bill Haslam on board with the fish hatchery project is also important.

The two trails are the first phase of the Tweetsie Trail and the final phase of the Riverfront trail.

The Tweetsie Trail is a Johnson City project, but will be important for Elizabethton because the first phase is to establish a bike and walking trail along the route of the former East Tennessee and Western North Carolina railroad from Alabama Street in Johnson City to Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton.

That trail will tie in at Sycamore Shoals with Elizabethton’s Riverfront Trail, which will extend along the Watauga and Doe rivers to East Side Elementary School. The new signalization at the intersection of West Elk Avenue and Williams Street will provide for a grade-level pedestrian crossing to connect the two trails.

Jonesborough’s $10 million, two-phase expansion of its wastewater treatment plant will likely be completed this spring, if not earlier, tripling the capacity of both the plant and the Washington County Industrial Park it serves.

The expansion holds huge potential for industrial development in the county, and the WCEDC’s Mitch Miller, who had a hand in securing all the government grants and loans that went into it, will quickly verify the potential there.

Located on Britt Drive about a half-mile west of Jonesborough’s downtown historic district, the water treatment plant is undergoing a major expansion that is being conducted in two phases of construction.

The first phase of the project includes two new 500,000-gallon treatment basins that will triple the plant’s capacity and allow for expanded use of the Washington Industrial Park on U.S. Highway 11E in Telford. The estimated cost for the basins is $5.5 million. Construction began in May 2012 and is currently nearing completion.

Phase two of the project includes the new outfall line and a new pump station that will carry the plant’s effluent away from Little Limestone Creek that runs downtown six miles southwest along Highway 81 South to the river.

The cost of the project’s second phase is estimated at about $4.5 million and is being funded through a $2.2 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development, a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Authority, a matching $815,000 Rural Development grant and a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe said with the EDA and Rural Development grants, the town will be able to complete the $4.5 million project at a cost of a little more than $2.2 million.

“Our goal is to get them digging as soon as possible,” Wolfe said.

Designs for the pump station have been completed and are currently being reviewed for approval by Rural Development. After approval, the designs must then be reviewed and approved by the EDA before the construction can finally be put out for bid.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited railroad overpass project in Erwin is slated for completion in the new year. Construction on the project, which is being overseen by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, is currently under way.

The project, which aims to allow motorists passage around the often backed-up traffic along Second Street due to trains crossing the roadway, calls for the relocation of Tenn. Highway 107, also known as Second Street, from the John Sevier Highway to Main Avenue through the construction of a one-half mile bridge over the CSX rail lines along Second Street.

The estimated cost of the project is $9.4 million. Once complete, the overpass will be multimodal, as it will have 12-foot travel lanes, bike lanes and sidewalks. Improvements are also set to occur along Main Avenue, where the overpass will intersect, including the installation of a traffic signal and turn lane. The completion date is set for Oct. 31.

Phase II of the town of Erwin’s downtown revitalization project is also set to begin in early 2014. This phase will cover Main Avenue from Gay Street to Union Street and will include streetscape, stormwater and utilities improvements. Before work on this phase begins, flood mitigation work along Union Street will be completed. This work will divert stormwater that flows down to Nolichucky Avenue during heavy rainfalls to a nearby box culvert.

Work on the second phase of the revitalization project is set to begin in March and is set to be completed by the first of October.

Read Wednesday’s New Year’s Day edition for an in-depth look at the busy election cycle coming up in 2014.

Press Staff Writer Sue Guinn Legg, Elizabethton Bureau Chief John Thompson and Erwin Bureau Chief Brad Hicks contributed to this report.

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