Area officials say the coming of Volkswagen could boost many highway projects, including rebuilding Exit 20 in Cleveland, but they don’t see it helping push improvements for U.S. Highway 64 through the Ocoee Gorge.
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, a longtime supporter of the U.S. 64 project, said backers are “certainly going to make the economic case” for the project. He said the VW announcement is a sign of overall economic development.
“Even with a Volkswagen, this is a big project in a rural area with a small population,” the Tennessee Republican said.
U.S. 64, or Corridor K, is part of the Appalachian Developmental Highway System and has been debated since it was listed as an economic development corridor in 1965.
Proponents say it would bring prosperity to a poor region, while opponents say it could damage the environment and cost billions of dollars to build.
VW spokeswoman Jill Bratina said Tuesday that company officials looked at interstate and rail access in the Chattanooga area. Corridor K was not part of the consideration, she said.
“It was the certainty of the existing avenues already in place that made it a good fit for us,” she said.
Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Julie Oaks said the VW announcement will not push the project forward any faster.
“The general consensus seems to be that the VW plant will cause transportation in the entire region to receive more attention than it may have before, including the Corridor K project,” Ms. Oaks said.
Linda Hixon, environmental coordinator for the Southeast Tennessee Rural Planning Organization, didn’t see why the VW would affect the Corridor K project.
“It must not be that important to them since they did locate here without Corridor K,” she said.
Most of Corridor K on the North Carolina side has been widened. The North Carolina Department of Transportation is updating environmental documents for bypassing a section in the Nantahala Gorge, said Van Arcabright with NCDOT.
He doubted there would be enough shipping from the VW plant to affect traffic counts.
“I wouldn’t think that would be a consideration,” Mr. Arcabright said.