KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knoxville and Knox County are growing with no signs of slowing down. With the increase, officials are looking into pedestrian and traffic safety.
“We’re going to have to get real creative on safety,” Knoxville Chief Economic Development Officer Harold Cannon tells WATE. “We have to forecast out at least five years what our needs are going to be because that’s where a lot of our funding comes from.”
Similar sentiments are expressed by Knox County’s senior director of engineering and public works, “We have a five-year capital plan, so we try to forecast ahead to the degree we can.”
That’s why, for both men and their teams, part of the job includes forecasting where the next big traffic jam or dangerous intersection will be as more people move to the area.
“We look at it from capacity,” Snowden says. “How much volume is on the street? How many delays are the motorists experiencing?”
“When there’s this many residents and this many trips per day,” Cannon adds. “What will that do to our existing infrastructure system? What needs to be upgraded to accommodate that?”
In the city, some of the areas being looked at for future development are along Chapman Highway as well as the Magnolia Avenue Corridor. This includes preparing for the city’s new ballpark to be built in the Old City.
“When that first pitch is thrown, my hope is that Jackson Avenue from Central down to and in front of the stadium, you will see a different look there. And there will be other projects building on to that all the way out to Magnolia,” Cannon says. “It used to be that we made wider roads. You have to make wider roads with pedestrian facilities and biking facilities.”
Unlike the city where many times it is about improving already built infrastructure, in Knox County a lot of the focus is on forecasting where the growth will be. Snowden tells WATE that Hardin Valley in West Knox County is one area experiencing a large amount of growth.
“There’s new schools and typically schools drive a lot of development because people want their kids to go to newer schools,” Snowden says. “Development drives traffic and oftentimes traffic drives development. You know, there’s a cycle that’s there.”
However, as the old saying goes, good things take time. Before roads can be built, widened or even moved, traffic studies must be done as well as the purchase of right of ways and the relocation of utilities among other things.
“We want to get the project done,” Snowden says. “But the time you secure the funding, go through all those hoops, unfortunately, it does take time from start to finish. Four to Five years from conception to completion.”
“On one side you’d like to see it done faster just because it’s needed today,” Cannon adds. “On the other hand, most of the projects that do take some time, the money is coming from the federal government, from the state, from gas tax revenue.”
That leads to another hurdle. Anticipating costs, especially in an economy that has been unpredictable.
“We did our budgeting back in pre-COVID days,” Cannon says. “So on some projects we’re not hitting the pause button but we’re having to step over to the side and say can we do this for the dollars that were allocated back then? In many cases, we are having to revisit it. It’s the cost of materials and construction right now.”
“I mean,” Snowden says. “You’re looking at, give or take, to widen a mile of road in the neighborhood of five or six million dollars.”
A hefty sum can at times be offset by state and federal dollars. As both men will attest, it is all well worth it if it translates to safer communities, safer trips to and from schools and overall better conditions for the city and county’s growing populations.
“We’ve all taken the attitude that we’re better together and, it’s working. It’s truly working,” Cannon says. “Sometimes it doesn’t move as fast as people hope, but it is working.”
Two ways city and county officials hope to make it work is through the city’s “Vision Zero” and the county’s “Advance Knox” programs. These programs focus on creating safer communities which includes transportation.