BENTON, Tenn. -- A massive highway project that could lessen the impact of rock slides for residents of Polk County, Tenn., is a state and local matter first, though federal funds will pay for most of the work.
That's the word from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who spoke briefly on the proposed Corridor K project Tuesday during a town hall meeting in Black Bear Cove Resort.
"The state has not yet said that Corridor K ... is something they think should happen today. I think they are looking at some other alternatives," Sen. Corker said. "We will pay attention to the federal appropriations, which is our responsibility, after the state and local government decides where they want roadways to go."
A Nov. 10 rock slide on U.S. Highway 64 in Polk County prompted questions about the Corridor K issue in a forum dominated by talk of health care reform.
The highway closure cut off residents in the eastern part of the county. Commutes to Cleveland and Chattanooga now take 45 minutes to an hour longer each way.
Residents say the rock slide highlights the need for an alternate route. That highway, the final leg in the Corridor K highway system, would provide residents with a safer, more reliable route from home to work, proponents said.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation estimates the cost of Corridor K to be about $1 billion, of which about $300 million already has been secured, department spokeswoman Julie Oaks said. The project is in the initial study phases, she said, with a citizens panel researching ways to provide a new route. Recommendations are expected to be ready early next year.
Denny Mobbs, a Polk County attorney and member of the citizens panel, asked Sen. Corker to ensure that the 80 percent federal, 20 percent local funding for the project will continue.
"We have to have a road in Polk County where our young people can get to a four-year school, to a good-paying job and home in a reasonable amount of time," Mr. Mobbs said.
Sen. Corker said he'll keep an eye on the project, but he doesn't see a need to step in to get it moving faster.
"I know there is a federal portion of the funding ... but it really is a local issue," Sen. Corker said. "I think what I heard today is that people don't want the federal government too involved in their lives. This is an issue that can be resolved at the state and county level."
Cleaning up the rock slide and repairing the roadway could take at least two months and cost about $2 million, according to TDOT figures.