TDOT unveils preliminary expansion plans for Memorial Blvd

SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – After Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam declared a Tri-Cities road to be in dire need of expansion earlier this month, folks in Sullivan County got a first look at what the expansion could look like at a meeting Thursday.

Improvements to State Route 126, also known as Memorial Boulevard, have been discusses and debated for years.

The eight-mile stretch of road extends from Interstate 81 to Center Street in Sullivan County.

Countless crashes have happened along that stretch of roadway, several of them deadly.

Thursday, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) presented its preliminary plans to the public, which show wider lanes, added turn lanes, wide shoulders with bike lanes, and sidewalks along most of State Route 126.

memorial blvd map
“Well, I’ve been concerned with this road project for the last 15 years,” said Gene Bledsoe, who lives near Memorial Boulevard.

“It’s just a little two-lane road, it was never meant to handle the traffic load that its handling now,” Bledsoe told News Channel 11.

“Seen some accidents here where somebody all of a sudden abruptly turns and somebody behind them doesn’t realize it,” said Dexter Harvey, whose house sits right above State Rte. 126.

“It’s kind of a big deal to us, because they told us the acquisition was going to happen in 2016,” Harvey told us.

Harvey said one of his biggest concerns was whether or not the state will end up buying his property in order to widen the road.

“So we don’t know what direction to go as far as buying a house, or selling or moving, those types of things,” he said.

TDOT officials said what they presented in Thursday’s meeting doesn’t answer that question. They said this meeting was about showing preliminary designs, and getting public feedback.

memorial blvd meeting

“The information received at tonight’s public meeting, public comment, as well as engineering information that TDOT will be collecting in the near future will assist in the development of a more detailed set of roadway plans that TDOT will be utilizing for the right away process,” said John Barrett, a Project Developer for TDOT.

Although the eight mile stretch of road has seen dozens of serious crashes through the years, those who live in the area had some hesitation about widening it.

“the (Yancey) Tavern and the cemetery were the two main concerns that I had in widening it,” Harvey said.

“I’ve got family that’s buried right there near the highway and that was a concern, my brother is buried right there,” Bledsoe told us.

But TDOT said the plan they’ve come up with enables them to widen the road without endangering the historic Tavern property and without disturbing any graves at East Lawn Cemetery.

memorial blvd

If you were unable to attend Thursday’s meeting but would like to send in a comment to TDOT, you can contact daniel.oliver@tn.gov or eric.wilson@tn.gov

Copyright WJHL 2015. All rights reserved.

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