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The Franklin County Highway Department has applied for a half million-dollar grant through The Federal Lands Access Program to improve, widen and add bicycle lanes to a 2.672-mile stretch of UTSI road.
The grant would provide $457,696.26 for the project and the County would be responsible for the remaining $114,424.07 of the total $572.120.33. The Franklin County Finance Committee and County Commission approved of the project and agreed to the matching funds prior to the submission of the application for the grant.
If the Highway Department receives the grant, the project will provide resurfacing and widening of UTSI Road for the accommodation of new bike lanes. The roadway resurfacing will consist of 1.25 inches of asphalt while adding two 6-foot-wide bike lanes, which would be on each side of the road and would accommodate bike traffic in the same direction of vehicular traffic.
Franklin County Mayor Richard Stewart said the Finance Committee and county government agreed unanimously to support the project.
“This is an important road and provides access to the University of Tennessee Space Institute, and Officers Club, as well as providing safe passage to other governmental properties of the Arnold Engineering Development Center,” Stewart said. “The project will bring a great resource to our county and we look forward to it tremendously.”
In the grant application, Highway Superintendent John Woodall said the project will provide safety, accessibility and mobility benefits.
“UTSI has seen an increase in, not only vehicular traffic, but also bicycle and pedestrian traffic,” Woodall said. “Use of the roadway by pedestrians and bicyclist increase the safety concerns for the traveling public through this stretch of road.”
The Franklin County Highway Department maintains UTSI Road from Tullahoma Highway to the perimeter of the Air Force Base just before Elk River Dam Road.
Woodall said that while the project may not add to the route network, it does provide improvements to that section of the road.
“The roadway improvements do not necessarily fill a missing link the route network, but they do provide an enhancement to this stretch of UTSI Road by increasing the accessibility of pedestrians and bike riders and dramatically improving their mobility with the use of the additional bike lanes,” he said. “The project would not likely reduce general vehicular traffic congestion, but would improve mobility by reducing conflict points with bike riders.”
Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller added his support of the project in an official statement citing a number of reasons including pedestrian safety.
“I am in support of this project on UTSI road because of the following: increase of traffic will have better visibility of roadway, increase in bicycle traffic will have a designated travel area marked, pedestrians will have a safe place to walk with the amount of traffic on UTSI Road, railroad crossings would be more visible due to new pavement marking and signage, the intersection at UTSI and Spring Creek Road would be more visible due to signage, pavement stop bars, and new lines on the roadway and surface would have more skid resistance due to the new surface,” he said.
In addition to safety and accessibility Woodall considers preservation, economic development and sustainability benefits in the grant application.
“The project would not present any negative impact on natural, cultural or historic resources, but would add to the scenic resources,” he said. “It will help with operating costs required to maintain this stretch of roadway and obviously it would contribute in the long-term to the local bike route system.
Woodall said economic development benefits would stem from better visitor experience.
“The economic benefits would be directly derived from improved visitor experience while driving along the improved roadway that provides more accessibility to pedestrian and bike riders, “he said. “The increased accessibility for bicycles will increase the number of bike riders along UTSI Road, which should provide an opportunity for the increase in customers for local businesses like restaurants and convenience stores.”
In the grant application Woodall states that the sustainability and environmental quality benefits are limited to the potential decrease of vehicular traffic due to accessibility by pedestrians and bike riders.
“The project should not present any negative impact on fish and wildlife and should avoid any potential negative impact for water quality, air pollution, noise increase or visual pollution,” he said. “The project would only enhance what is essentially already in place in terms of the roadway for UTSI Road. The project does not present the use of new sustainable energy sources for transportation.
“The increase in bike riders or pedestrian traffic is an environmental friendly endeavor by the reduction of vehicular traffic.”
If approved, the project would take an estimated three months to complete according to the grant proposal. It states that the work should be performed during the dry seasons or summer months.
The optimum year for the work to be done would be later this year, and would ideally need to be completed no later than 2015, but the proposal explains that the Franklin County Highway Department would be flexible with the time frame and would not place any restrictions on the proposed project that would jeopardize strong consideration for the grant.