BENTON, Tenn. - Whatever final decisions are made on the proposed Corridor K project, Tom Darden hopes it doesn't mess up the beauty of the Ocoee Gorge.
"Our preference is to look for a creative and engineering solution within the existing footprint," said Mr. Darden, a resident of Reliance, Tenn.
"Our preference is to look for a creative and engineering solution within the existing footprint,'' he said. "If you can make that scenic drive even more scenic and you are going to spend huge amounts of federal money, let's improve the existing footprint.''
Mr. Darden and a good-sized crowd of area residents got the chance Tuesday to study alternate routes through the Ocoee River Gorge for Corridor K between Chattanooga and Asheville, N.C.
Another hearing is set for 5 to 8 p.m. today (wednesday) at Copper Basin High School in Copperhill, Tenn.
In a come-and-go type workshop at Polk County High School, visitors could study and talk to Tennessee Department of Transportation representatives.
"All the options are open," said Wesley Hughen from TDOT's project management division.
Mr. Darden and some others hope it stays that way for a while.
For now, there are eight corridor options. One is to do nothing. Another is to rebuild parts of the existing U.S. Highway 64.
Three options go above or north of the Ocoee River, while two are south. The eighth is a hybrid of other alternatives requested by the Citizens Resource Team, assembled by TDOT as public advisers.
Mr. Darden said taking a route above the Ocoee River creates more threats of rock slides like the one that fell Nov. 10 and closed U.S. 64 until at least late March. Routes below the river, he said, invade prime bear habitat, among other ecological concerns.
Bob and Lee Merrell of Reliance came to look at the maps and said they agree with Mr. Darden.
The Corridor K planning process is something TDOT is trying for the first time, Mr. Hughen said. Along with the citizens team, three other teams include elected officials, businesses and other agencies with a stake in the region, including the U.S. Forest Service and TVA.
Comments for the Transportation Planning Report, which includes these public workshops, ends March 31. At that point, the environmental impact statement work begins. The environmental process traditionally takes about 54 months, Mr. Hughen said.
"But with all this information we have done with the (Transportation Planning Report) and the Citizens Resource Team and the other teams in place, we are hoping that will take 18 to 36 months," he said.