Fatal accident highlights Chapman danger

Sep. 07, 2013 @ 11:05 PM

Local legislators and County Mayor Larry Waters say they’re working to see more safety improvements to Chapman Highway and they haven’t given up on plans for an extension of the James White Parkway that appeared to die last week.

A fatal accident on Chapman Highway in the last week again illustrated the need for improvements to the busy, curvy highway running between downtown Sevierville and downtown Knoxville.

In that case, a driver going south on Chapman Highway crossed the center line and struck a motorcycle, killing the rider. It occurred not far from the site of a fiery collision between a car and church van that killed two and injured a dozen last year when the driver of the car also crossed the center line and hit the van head-on.

Local officials said at the time that there needed to be more attention to safety on the road.

TDOT has outlined a number of projects that have either recently been completed or are scheduled for the road. That includes adding a “rumble stripe” between lanes on the four-lane section of the road between Seymour and Sevierville, designed to help warn drivers when they corss the center line, as well as new turn lanes where White School Road intersects with the highway. A newly approved project would widen the highway from four lanes to five between Simpson Road and Hendrons Chapel.

Gov. Bill Haslam recently said he expects TDOT to continue those efforts. Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters, Sen. Doug Overbey and Rep. Dale Carr said they also still want to see more work to improve the road.

Waters, Overbey and Carr also said they are hoping to see discussion resume on a proposed extension of James White Parkway.

The Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization, which is made up of representatives from several local governments in East Tennessee, voted last month to eliminate the extension of the Parkway from its Transportation Improvement Plan. Those plans are used by the state in deciding which road projects to pursue.

Haslam indicated TDOT would abide by the TPO’s decision, but local officials noted it must be approved on second reading and could come up again for further discussion.

“I am trying to see if that’s a possibility,” Waters said. “I haven’t determined that yet. I am just checking to see if any of the folks would be interested in hearing more about it or in trying to take another look at it. We’ll see what the outcome of that will be.”

Before the TPO vote, TDOT had offered a new route that appeared to address many of the issues with the parkway’s route, and Waters has said he would like to at least see public forums about the new route before a final decision is made.

Regardless, Waters said he hopes Haslam keeps his promise to look into ways to improve safety on the road. “He indicated he supports safety improvements as well, so hopefully TDOT will take a close look and see what an be done to improve it.

“We’re certainly going to encourage them to do that.”

Overbey, who was outspoken about the need for more safety measures after last year’s wreck, said he appreciates the work that’s been completed since then.

“I want to compliment TDOT for getting the rumble strips down the center line,” he said. “I think they did it fairly comprehensively and I think that has helped. Unfortunately it’s not a complete fix but it’s a good first step.”

He also said he hopes to see the discussions about James White Parkway resumed.

“I don’t know that we have heard the last word on the James White Parkway,” he said. “I think we’re trying to come up with an approach.”

Carr also indicated he hopes to see more safety improvements on the highway; he indicated he believes the role of legislators should be to help see to it the project is funded more than to suggest specific projects.

He also said he supports the efforts to resurrect the extension of the parkway.

“Mayor Waters is working on that as diligently as he possibly can to see if he can salvage that and not let it go by the wayside.”

jfarrell@themountainpress.com