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Leaders debate turn lanes at 11E medians

Members of Jonesborough’s Traffic Advisory Committee continue to debate the need for turn lanes at several median cuts on Highway 11E and just who should be responsible for funding such projects.
During their July 25 meeting, committee members once again discussed the issue, one that first came up in August 2012.
At that time, the owner of West Hills Tractor, 1103 W. Jackson Blvd., requested the town create a left turn lane westbound on the highway into his business, citing safety concerns there dealing with large trucks.
A median cut already exists there that would allow vehicles access to the entrance into West Hills Tractor from the proposed turn lane. Heading eastbound, a left turn lane into Ingle’s grocery store already exists at that particular median cut.
At the time, the Traffic Advisory Committee approved plans for the new lane, but then questioned who would pay for the project. Some even aired concerns about potentially setting a precedent for such projects on Highway 11E.
A few months later, Mark Ferguson requested a left turn lane be created at the median near his land at 1407 W. Jackson Blvd., now the home of the Family Dollar store.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is requiring Ferguson put in the turn lane to accomodate traffic from the store, which opened in February.
However, Ferguson came to the town, arguing that safety concerns existed at that median cut prior to the store locating there.
“I don’t think it’s fair for me to be asked to pay for Jonesborough’s safety concerns,” Ferguson said at a November 2012 meeting. “It is the last turnaround before you get to Persimmon Ridge (Road) and (vehicles) all use that turnaround.”
Following the requests, Jonesborough leaders sent a town employee to review traffic habits at both median cuts as well as the one between them in the area of Advanced Auto.
“We had (Police Sgt.) Dickie Wines go down there for an extended day. He was there for one day — a Saturday,” Town Administrator Bob Browning reported to the committee at its recent meeting. “I was surprised at the number of turning movements there at the Family Dollar.”
According to Browning, Wines reported more than 1,000 vehicles turning at the Family Dollar median cut, with approximately half of the automobiles making u-turns and the other half turning into the store.
The number of u-turns reported at the West Hills Tractor median cut was estimated at 400, Browning said.
“The one that created the most safety concern was the middle one,” Browning added.
While the other two medians currently have eastbound turn lanes, the middle median cut has no turn lanes whatsoever.
Despite having the fewest turning movements, that median reportedly had several “near misses” as far as potential traffic crashes because drivers are trying to turn in opposite directions with confusion as to who should be where, Browning said.
“When the road was built back in the 1950s, there wasn’t anything there to worry about. There wasn’t a problem,” said Mayor Kelly Wolfe, also a member of the Traffic Advisory Committee. “Now, we’ve got a safety issue at all three of those median cuts.”
While Police Chief Matt Hawkins said it would be safer to have the left turn lanes at the median cuts, the problem for the town is the cost.
Even with town crews providing the labor, each lane installation typically costs somewhere around $15,000, according to Browning.
Discussion regarding the turn lane at the Family Dollar median has revolved around a possible cost sharing of the project between the town and Ferguson.
But if the town decides all three medians need to be fixed for safety reasons, that could change.
“If we’re doing the other ones and nobody is cost sharing, should we be having cost sharing at this one (at Family Dollar)?” Browning asked. “This gets back to having an overall policy with median cuts.”
The town typically foots the bill for turn lanes when they are associated with an existing public street.
For example, the town constructed the turn lane eastbound on Highway 11E that allows motorists to turn left onto Tobie Drive by Captain D’s restaurant. However, Lowe’s and Pal’s were responsible for the left turns into their establishments.
The committee decided to wait to make any further decisions on the turn lanes until contract engineer Todd Wood creates a comprehensive plan for all three median cuts.
“There is some concern about a precedent being set with what we are doing here,” Wolfe said. “I just want to say, if we do something out there, it’s not for any one person. It’s because safety necessitates it. It’s not because any one person said that we have to do it.”