|Highway 321 work starts soon
Contractors, city officials and local business owners met Tuesday morning at the Lenoir City Municipal Building to get an update on road work along U.S. Highway 321.
Crews have already shifted lanes along Highway 321 from the Simpson Road area to the intersection with Highway 11.
Work on Highway 321 will soon increase along the shoulders starting around Simpson Road and working toward the Highway 11 intersection.
“Right now utilities — water is going in right now,” Jordan Potter, J&M Grading Division LLC representative, said. “... Tomorrow we’re probably going to start milling if everything goes good with the weather. Then, as soon as the weather breaks and we can start moving dirt, that’s what we will start there at the Burger King.”
Milling work will be done on both sides of Highway 321 but only “one side at a time,” Potter said.
At the same time work begins near Simpson Road, crews will also start at the 321/11 intersection. Overall construction is split into two projects, with the widening of 321 to six lanes separate from the intersection work, allowing for both to be done simultaneously.
Work at the intersection will start with shifting lanes at the intersection as soon as weather allows for painting new traffic lines.
“There’s two shifts on that end, on the intersection piece,” Joe Potter, the primary contractor for J&M, said.
The shifts will move traffic inside for work on guttering and curbs and then back outside for work on the median.
“It’s only about 10 foot at a time,” Ray McCarter, a J&M representative, said. “Either shoulder width or lane width, whatever it is.”
Work on the two projects is expected take about the same amount of time, with a completion date set for June 30, 2019. Because of the concentrated construction and the shifting of traffic lanes, McCarter urged drives to use extreme caution.
Officials are hoping to reduce speeds along the construction zone as work ramps up.
“Use caution, pay attention to the reduction speed,” McCarter said. “There will be men working.”
Some business owners along the construction area also voiced concern for traffic safety and were in favor of the reduction in top speed during the construction period.
Lenoir City Police Department plans to target the construction area regularly with patrols to help emphasize the need for caution.
“We’ll definitely have a heavier presence in the construction zone just to try to calm driving habits, speed and distracted driving,” Don White, Lenoir City police chief, said. “... Because the lanes are going to be narrowed to do the project, it will be even more important that we be seen. We will probably assign a car just to that zone, that construction zone.”
While a lot of the traffic coming through Lenoir City along Highway 321 includes commuters or travelers who will likely stick to the path despite construction, White does anticipate local drivers will attempt to avoid the big road.
“The local residents, they’re going to figure out (alternate routes),” White said. “... It will be like the high school project. We always have a lot of congestion at the first of the school year because everybody converges on the high school about the same time and it backs up and it’s a mess. When we did the construction project out there it was very, very congested about the first couple of weeks and then it kind of leveled out and people figured out what times worked better for them and what routes they needed to take to get to the high school.
“... It was still congested, but it was much better after the first couple of weeks,” he added. “I think this will be the same.”
White believes drivers will get used to the construction much like they did with the bridge project that is nearing its conclusion.
“It’s going to be a little probably disruptive at first because there’s going to be barrels and there’s going to be equipment and there’s going to be gravel that you have to drive across,” White said. “But once somebody does that a time or two ... it will be normal. This is going to be a long project, and the cones are going to become normal, just like the bridge project became normal.
“... I just think our mission from the police department will be to slow people down, have a presence and try to reduce traffic crashes,” White added.