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Kenton bypass a sensitive issue

Kenton bypass a sensitive issue

Posted: Thursday, December 18, 2008 9:46 pm
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter

 By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter Delays, time and money. That’s what a re-evaluation of the state’s proposal to build a U.S. Highway 45 bypass on the east side of Kenton would cost, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The Kenton bypass is part of TDOT’s project to four-lane U.S. Highway 45 from Rutherford to Union City. TDOT public affairs officer Julie Oaks said the project has a Final Approved Environmental Assessment (FAEA) study and a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) as well. “The EA (environmental assessment) covered a corridor from north of Rutherford to Union City. At this time, the Kenton bypass is ready to move into the design phase but has not yet been funded,” she said. Even so, several Kenton and county officials are not pleased with the state’s plan. On Oct. 20, the Obion County Commission passed a resolution requesting TDOT to reconsider the Kenton project. TDOT responded by arranging a public meeting Dec. 4 at Kenton Community Center. A crowd of about 35 concerned citizens and local officials, including Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire, attended the meeting. TDOT was represented by three officials — Steve Chipman, project manager, and Tom Love and Jim Ozment, both of whom work in the Documents Section, TDOT Environmental Division. Costly proposal Ms. Oaks said the purpose of the meeting was to ensure that local government understands that a re-evaluation of the project would be costly. In addition to the EA, she said, TDOT has studied potential alternates, conducted technical studies and has held public meetings to arrive at its decision that the east route to bypass Kenton is the preferred route. “TDOT has spent about $500,000 on studies for this project so far,” Ms. Oaks said. “A re-evaluation on a new route would mean starting over with a new project.” She said she does not have an estimate on what it will cost to build the project; however, TDOT estimated it will cost about $400,000 to re-evaluate it. “We wanted an opportunity to explain to county commissioners and Kenton aldermen that to consider another route, such as a route further west, TDOT would have to essentially start over,” she said. “This route would have to be treated as a new project and another EA would need to be done because it lies outside the area that has already been studied. That would take approximately two years at the very least to complete, and it would require funding.” And if TDOT decides to do a re-evaluation, TDOT would schedule public meetings to let the public know TDOT is acting at the request of Kenton and county officials. Reaction Obion County commissioner and budget committee chairman Danny Jowers of Kenton was among those who expressed opposition or misgivings to the TDOT plan. Over the course of two hours, many voices joined the chorus of discussion. Jowers said many meetings have been held to discuss the issue, but things have changed since the last one. “We lost our biggest industry (Plastech), along with 200 jobs,” he said. “There are other factors involved such as many empty houses and a downturn in the economy. In appraised property, this year alone we’ve lost over $3 million. Next year, it’s projected to be $4 million. That absolutely affects the City of Kenton but it also affects the county. “If you read the papers, you know the state is millions of dollars in the red. The county is doing fairly well, but that’s based on sales tax and property tax. The city has two ways to generate funds — revenue shared on its sales taxes and property taxes and a few dollars from the wheel tax. “I know a lot of this goes back to the McWherter administration. He wanted roads to connect every county seat off I-40 in West Tennessee. That’s why you had Highway 22 widened, 45E widened and 45W widened. That was pre-I-69 coming. “The demographics of the way Kenton sits, it’s kind of in between two locations where you can get on I-69. We have said, ‘Maybe go back and look at even doing this road. You already have a shortfall in your budget. Do we need to spend $20 million or $30 million on a road that’s going to serve very few people?’ “Right now, I can get to Union City in 15 minutes driving the speed limit. I just don’t want to see more towns die because of a four-lane. A four-lane’s not always the best thing for a town. … “We have not grown in our county in 30 or 40 years. We are the same population we were back in the 1960s. We just do not have the growth to support some of these four-lanes. Every time you put a four-lane in, there’s more farm land taken up, less land in production. Some of the best farm land in the world is around this town. I just hate to see it taken for a four-lane.” Another of their concerns is the nearby wetland. If the bypass is built there, the result would be periodic flooding of Kenton. Another possible alternative is to do nothing about the bypass but improve what’s already here, he said, meaning Highway 45. “The Department of Transpor-tation has it guidelines and cost and they are the final word,” Jowers said. “We just ask. That’s all we’re doing today, asking for different options. If I were a businessman looking at this for economics and cost analysis, no way would I spend that kind of money on a road that only certain people going to Jackson would use. It’s Union City to Jackson and basically that’s all you’re going to have. I just want to see the reasoning behind paving this (four-lane) road all the way from Union City to Kenton — going across the bottoms, going across our wetlands down here.” Published in The Messenger 12.18.08

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