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TDOT’s road solutions should have more balance

Replacement of the 1907 Clinchfield Railroad single-lane tunnel on Knob Creek Road in Washington County is critical to the needs of emergency vehicles attempting to serve residents of the area.
As reported by Herald & Tribune Staff Writer Saundra Kelley, the tunnel is “causing tempers to rise and traffic to bottleneck as increasing numbers of drivers find themselves waiting to pass through” from one side of the crossing to the other. Johnson City Interim Fire Chief Mark Finucane says that not all fire trucks can pass through the tunnel because of their size. He explains: “Most of them either come in through Market Street/ 11E to Claude Simmons, or through Knob Creek, but that makes the response time unacceptable.”
Finucane continues: “Our commitment is to get equipment to a burning building within 4 minutes. The tunnel has a negative impact on our ability to do that.”
The State of Tennessee has a proposed solution to the tunnel: Realign Knob Creek from west of Claude Simmons Road to east of Mountainview Road, and replace the underpass with an overpass to be built 575 feet northwest of the existing tunnel.
The project will straighten and connect the east and west portions of Knob Creek Road without the need of a tunnel. However, several parcels of land on a portion of Knob Creek Road being used as a connection to Claude Simmons Road and Mountain View are historic properties.
While the need for realignment is apparent, care should be taken to preserve what remains of cultural and historic significance along Knob Creek. Sadly, properties worthy of historic designation in the area have already been encroached to the point they no longer fit the description required to stay on the historic register, according to a 2005 Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) study preparatory to beginning construction on the overpass.
This situation has caused resident James Sell, owner of several parcels of the historic property, to suggest an alternative: “All they have to do is go under the existing tunnel and tracks like they did in Kingsport at Eastman. It would be the cheapest thing to do. If you go higher, it will be tremendously expensive no matter how they do it.” As a major employer and large corporation, Eastman has the ability to influence the thinking of those in authority at the Transportation Department. This may not be the case with residents in the Knob Creek community.
Kelley’s investigation revealed that many people are unaware of the State’s construction plans. Recently, Jonesborough residents have experienced TDOT proposals that have adversely affected Five Points Grocery. Such action gives little reassurance that the State will respect the scenic views and open spaces that are important to people living in rural areas. Why the State of Tennessee wants to build a viaduct over an already elevated railroad bed challenges our view of a common sense solution to this road construction project. The elevated structure will likely require a lot more land and cause another highway eyesore in an area that deserves to be preserved.
Further explanation of the project and consideration of tunneling appears warranted. The project is necessary and should be constructed. However, a balancing of the need for modern transportation roadways while preserving the past is called for in the reconstruction of the 1907 Clinchfield tunnel.
What do readers think? “Letters to the Editor” can be addressed to P. O. Box 277, Jonesborough, Tennessee 37659; fax us at 423-753-6528, come by the office at 702 W. Jackson Blvd., or e-mail the newspaper at [email protected]