SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Spring is just down the road and so are plans for improving traffic at a famous exit in Sevier County.
County leaders were in Nashville recently as part of an ongoing effort to secure funding for several transportation projects including a possible Exit 408, according to Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters.
“We think that’s in the governor’s budget, and we’re hopeful the legislature approves that so we can move forward with that,” Waters said.
The county believes the new exit off the interstate will alleviate some of the traffic issues at Exit 407 that have developed with projects in the area, such as the planned opening of Buc-ee’s this summer.
“So this 408 exit is very important to the future of Sevier County,” Waters said.
Waters says the county’s updated transportation plan has been submitted to the state for review.
“Right now at the 407 there’s various improvements going on to help with the anticipated extra traffic that Buc-ee’s will generate,” Waters said. “Hopefully that’s going to help us in the short-term to handle the additional traffic, and then, the longer term is this 408 exit – and we’re hoping to expedite that as fast as possible so that we can alleviate any traffic issues at Buc-ee’s and the other businesses going in that area might cause.”
The Sevierville Buc-ee’s – which will temporarily hold the title of “world’s largest convenient store” until another Buc-ee’s is completed in its original state of Texas – is expected to open its doors in May.
Waters said the board expects funding for the proposed Exit 408 to be part of Governor Bill Lee’s proposed budget for the fiscal year 2023-2024 which won’t be approved by the Tennessee legislature until late spring.
The Federal Highway Administration will have the final say on plans for the interstate if approved.
“We understand that the plans are down there, and being reviewed and hopefully will be approved soon by the Federal Highway Administration, which in conjunction with the appropriation of money will help us to move forward on the 408 exit,” Waters said.
Waters said Exit 407 has been a primary entrance into Sevier County for years and that the collaborative efforts by city leaders toward ensuring easier access are a benefit for visitors as well as residents across the county.
“We’re trying to work on all of these issues because it’s important not just to Sevierville, but to Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevier County that those exits function and function well,” he said.
The Sevier County Transportation Board is comprised of city leaders from Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Pittman Center. Formed in the early 1990s, the group created a long-term transportation plan. Similar to many other roadways and infrastructure projects, updates have been needed.
“The Board, in conjunction with our transportation consultants, have adapted the plan as needs and traffic trends have adjusted and changed,” said Sevier County Vice Mayor Bryan McCarter in an email. “This includes the completion of Veterans Boulevard to Highway 66 and a new Exit 408.”
The need for another exit off of Interstate 40 in Sevier County comes at a time when the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is launching developments on both sides of Exit 407. To the south, “The 407: Gateway to Adventure” site includes a Buc-ee’s, a theme park by Puy Du Fou, a hotel and retail shopping. A plan for more than 120 acres to the north of the interstate, surrounding Tennessee Smokies Stadium has not been released.
In 2021, more than 40,000 vehicles use the ramps at Exit 407 each day according to data from the Tennessee Department of Transportation. That number is only expected to grow.
“With the success of our tourism comes the challenges of transportation and infrastructure,” McCarter wrote in a social media post. “And to address these challenges, we have to work together, local and state.”
McCarter also said that Sevier County and the cities of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Pittman Center are working with our many government partners. including Lee, the Commissioner of Transportation, our state and federal legislators and others to approve the projects and find funding to complete the road projects.
“What’s going on out there, as well as what’s going on in the county, is a partnership among the county and the cities working together,” Waters said. “This is our priority. All of the cities are on board with the 407 and 408 improvements being our priority. We’re all working together.”