Polk County Corridor K/Highway 64
New publication on this issue:
Effectiveness of Citizen Participation in Governmental Decisions:
A Case Study of the Appalachian Development Highway System Corridor K
Project – Ocoee Section published May, 2007.
Tennessee Long-Range Transportation Plan
Corridor K Project Called Low Priority Job - Chattanooga Time Free Press reports Polk County project is low on TDOT's priorities because of its excessive cost, environmental impact and public opposition to the 20-mile plan.
Congressman Zach Wamp and State Representative Chris Newton continue to advocate the construction of the contentious Corridor K/Highway 64 bypass in Polk County, with a whopping projected cost of 1.5-2.3 billion dollars, 20% of which would have to come from the Tennessee budget. Mr. Newton suggests floating bonds as a way to pay our share. They repeatedly point out the safety issue as a strong reason for building this freeway through the Cherokee National Forest, without mentioning the fact that the accident rate on the existing road is below the Tennessee state average. Mr. Wamp is quoted as having emphasized the need to make the [existing] road safer while waiting for the major project. If the existing road can be made even safer than it already is, why move forward with the new road on safety grounds?
An article published in the Polk County News on March 3rd, 2004 states that Mr. Wamp said “it is important to get information on the economic benefits of the bypass and Newton agreed, saying they are looking for money for a study.” One might question why these two representatives have long been vehemently promoting the project on its economic merits, without already having in hand solid information on these purported benefits. Given Mr. Wamp’s statement in the same article that “the federal money is there to start drawing down”, one might wonder if the main reason for his promotion of this project is simply to get federal money spent. What I want to know is, why is it so important to “start drawing down” all that money and exactly who stands to get it?
According to the article, Beth Jones of the Southeast Tennessee Development District is working on raising funds for an Economic Impact Analysis “to justify return on investment.” This seems to indicate that the conclusion has been drawn before the evidence is in. She wants the new road referred to as “the Chattanooga to Charlotte” highway. When Corridor K was conceived under the Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965, such a highway may have been appropriate. In 2004, we have interstate highways that will get you from here to there just fine.
Mr. Wamp would like for the Ocoee River rafting outfitters to take up his cause, telling them that “We don’t want Earth First! to determine this route. We don’t want a small minority to dictate for the overwhelming majority.” To begin with, it’s not just Earth First! that’s challenging this project. It’s also the Sierra Club, Cherokee Forest Voices, the Southern Off-Road Biking Association, Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, and the Southern Environmental Law Center, among other conservation and enthusiast groups. Just as importantly, many of those opposed are the citizens of Polk County who have been calling on us to help them save their homes and surroundings.
Furthermore, shouldn’t Mr. Wamp’s “overwhelming majority” be proven before it’s claimed? Mr. Wamp also stated, according to the article, “it’s important for all local groups to speak up so the 1% can’t intimidate the 99%.” This statement boldly implies that if all local groups were asked, 99% would agree with him. I’d like to see those percentages verified by solid research, and the burden of proof is on whoever tosses them around in support of his pet project. Keep in mind that the Cherokee National Forest belongs to all US citizens. I’d like to see how their views were measured. This is serious money we’re talking about here, and permanent damage to a natural resource that’s rare and getting rarer.
Zach Wamp said in a page from his own website (click here or here) dated February 1999, “The rivers of the Ocoee region were used by an unbelievable 300,000 visitors last year, helping to establish what I call ‘The crown jewel of outdoor sports and recreation in the Eastern United States’." In my mind, such a statement doesn’t square well with splitting that “jewel” in half with a major freeway. Mr. Wamp also says on the same page of his website that “One of our biggest challenges is to make sure that the area is easy to reach for those who want to enjoy it while preserving its breath-taking natural beauty and its pristine watersheds.” Those 300,000 visitors made it there okay in 1998 without Corridor K.
TDOT has put significant resources into assessing the environmental and aesthetic impacts associated with the Corridor K extension. This evaluation, available to the public, shows that the impacts would be enduring and severe. Add the estimated cost, projected to run as high as $2.3 billion for construction alone, and the long-term economic loss that would result from damage to the aesthetic and environmental quality of the region. Now, balance all of that against an invalid safety argument, a disproved access argument, and an unsubstantiated economic argument, which are the pillars upon which this new road is based.
The safety argument in favor of Corridor K doesn’t hold up to statistics. The recreational access argument is disproved by the fact that the existing roads aren’t clogged with people trying to get into the Cherokee National Forest. The economic benefits being invoked by Corridor K proponents are nebulous. We realize Mr. Wamp and Mr. Newton have a responsibility to represent all of their constituents, including the citizens of Polk County, and we appreciate their hard work and diligence. However, while safety, economic development, and recreational access are commendable goals, there is not enough potential improvement of these aspects to support a decision to move ahead with Corridor K. Let’s drop it now, and quit spending tax money trying to justify it.
To read comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, please take a look at the following:
This article from the February 29th, 2004 Cleveland Daily Banner contains quotes from Zach Wamp and Chris Newton, who are strong Corridor K advocates, in spite of strong evidence presented by the State of Tennessee which indicates that the touted benefits just aren't there. Advocates appear convinced that everyone who's anyone wants this road to go through. "The house has put off voting on the new six-year transportation bill for two months," Wamp said, "but there is no disagreement on Corridor K." From the comments we've been hearing from people in and around the affected region, there is still considerable public disagreement about Corridor K, and if our elected officials aren't aware of it, they need to be. If you don't want this road built, let your elected representatives know quickly.
The official public comment period on the Draft Environmental Impact study closed on February 15th, but it's not too late to make your opinion known to your elected representatives. A list of contacts is provided below.
Please also see the Chattanooga Bicycle Club's page on Corridor K at http://www.chattbike.com/bikechat/Hwy64corrK.htm.
Gerald Nicely, Commissioner
Tennessee Department of Transportation
James K. Polk Building
Governor Phil Bredeson
Senator Bill Frist
Senator Lamar Alexander
Office of Senator Lamar Alexander
Senator David Fowler
1502 Gardenhire Road
Signal Mountain, TN 37377
Senator Ward Crutchfield
707 Georgia Ave.
Ste. 301 Flatiron Bldg
Chattanooga, TN 37402
Representative Chris Clem
138 S. Bragg
Lookout Mountain, TN 37350
Representative Chris Newton
245 Cherokee Circle
Benton, TN 37307
Representative Jeff Miller
442 Inman Street
Cleveland, TN 37311
Anne B. Pope
ARC Federal Co-Chair
Appalachian Regional Commission
1666 Connecticut Avenue, NW