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Traffic circle at Five Points one step closer to fruition

A proposed traffic circle in Jonesborough that will require the demolition of a longtime convenience mart went through another round of approval at the July 9 meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
The absence of the store’s owner at the meeting sparked some debate on the issue.
In October 2009, the BMA approved a traffic circle design for the dangerous Five Points intersection where Tenn. Highway 81 South, Tenn. Highway 353 and Washington Drive all meet. The circle would require the Tennessee Department of Transportation to demolish Five Points Grocery, which at the time was news to the store’s owner, Kelly Street.
Street had not been informed of the possibility that her store would be demolished and was not present when the BMA voted on the plan.
She was also absent from last week’s BMA meeting where aldermen were presented with the TDOT proposal and asked to approve expectations set forth in the plan for the town.
“My only concern is the communication with the business impacted by this,” Alderman Chuck Vest said. “I’m a little concerned that there’s no one here to speak to this.”
Town Administrator Bob Browning, who took the blame for leaving Street out of the loop in 2009, defended not informing her of this particular meeting.
“It doesn’t really relate to what choice the state makes on this project. This plan hasn’t changed in over a year,” Browning said. “They (TDOT) have indicated they are going to hold a public meeting when they get the design done.”
TDOT, Browning said, simply sent the town a proposal that establishes conditions and expectations for the town necessary for TDOT to be able to move forward with the traffic improvements.
“We have to agree to some general things like that we won’t change the project,” Browning said. “They want to know we’ll maintain it and continue to use it as it was intended.”
Town leaders opted years ago for the traffic circle instead of a traffic light at the intersection.
But at last week’s meeting, Alderman Mary Gearhart expressed concern over installing the traffic circle at Five Points.
“I’m not in agreement with this. I think the traffic circle is not a good idea,” Gearhart said. “It’s a recommendation for trouble.”
Vest disagreed, calling the circle the “best option.” He also reminded board members that the traffic light likely would cause even worse problems for Street and her store.
“With the red light, all the parking for the business would be eliminated. It’s almost like shutting down the business and they would get nothing for it,” Vest said. “It’s better to get the revenue from the state than to have a business with no parking.”
TDOT would be required to pay Street for her store in order to demolish it for the traffic circle.
With only the need for some right-of-way space for a traffic light, there would be no payment to Street despite the loss of all her parking.
Mayor Kelly Wolfe also expressed support for the traffic circle during last week’s meeting.
“I think the traffic circle is a great idea. You are seeing them used in a lot of places,” he said. “It’s no longer a Martian that landed from outer space.”
Wolfe did, however, ask aldermen to consider raising some nearby speed limits that were reduced last year in an effort to improve safety at the intersection while awaiting the traffic circle.
Speed limits were reduced to 30 miles per hour at the intersection and all the way to town limits.
“There are numerous folks who consider themselves residents of Jonesborough who have voiced their opinion about that being a bad move,” Wolfe said. “I would like to think about and potentially consider taking that 30- miles-per-hour zone back a little closer to the traffic circle. I think we may have had a little overkill going all the way out to city limits with 30 miles per hour.”
Aldermen agreed to consider speed limit changes. They also unanimously approved TDOT’s proposal establishing expectations of the town.
“I don’t want to, but aye,” Gearhart said when casting her vote.
Wolfe was quick to respond to Gearhart’s vote on the subject.
“Sometimes we all have to swallow a pill we don’t like, Mary,” he teased.