Northshore improvements

Citizen advises, County reacts to fix dangerous half-mile drainage ditch

John Schoonmaker, right, 5th District Knox County Commissioner, speaks with Jim Snowden, senior director for Knox County Engineering & Public Works, about the county’s upcoming fill of a roughly half-mile drainage ditch along the eastbound lane of Northshore Drive.
Thanks to one constituent’s feedback, having eyewitnessed an accident in the eastbound lane of Northshore Drive near the roundabout at Concord Road, Knox County is taking action — about seven months later — to avoid a potential tragedy.

It has to with filling in a drainage ditch on the eastbound side, which stretches roughly half a mile from the “fishing bridge” east to the roundabout, where there is little or no shoulder and a ditch that John Schoonmaker, 5th District Knox County Commissioner, said is “deep” and causing potentially fatal accidents.

“Back in the early summer, it was about 7:45 in the morning, I got a call from one of the citizens who lives out in the Choto Road area. He said, ‘John, I’ve just witnessed this accident, and it’s just ridiculous we can’t do anything about it,’” Schoonmaker said Friday, Jan. 25. “When I first got on Commission I had three things I wanted to accomplish, and one of them was ‘what could we do to improve Northshore Drive?’

“I said, ‘fill me in, what’s going on.’ And he goes, ‘you know where the ditch is between the roundabout and the bridge down here. What’s happening is, people aren’t paying attention as they’re driving (eastbound) and they’re going off the road,’” he added.

Moreover, “what people are doing is panicking and they’re over-correcting and they’re coming out in (the westbound) lane of traffic, and the potential for a smash-up,” Schoonmaker said. “It’s been multiple times.”

“Those head-on collisions, with these speeds, is a lot of energy — it’s posted 40 mph, but the operating speed down here is probably 50, 55 mph,” said Jim Snowden, senior director of Knox County Engineering & Public Works.

However, “thank goodness there’s not been any fatalities, there have just been some wrecks that shouldn’t have happened,” Schoonmaker said.

With the county having appropriated $142,000, as requested by Schoonmaker, Knox crews will begin laying plastic pipes in the ditch and covering it over with dirt and grass, creating a level plane to the road’s surface — serving as an emergency shoulder for motorists.

“If somebody gets off the road, all they run over is a level grassy area that’s stabilized rather than having that real steep dropoff,” Snowden said.

The funds come “from a surplus of sales tax dollars,” Schoonmaker added.

Knox County crews will begin work each weekday around 9 a.m. starting Monday, Feb. 11, and will go until around 3 p.m. — taking “about two to three weeks” to complete according to Snowden.

Snowden advises motorists to “slow down and use caution” because the eastbound lane section adjacent to where the crew is working — between 100 and 200 feet at a time according to Snowden — will be closed, creating alternate stoppages in both lanes. “If you stop traffic here for a few minutes, it’s going to back people up for a good distance.

“… We want to try to minimize these folks’ inconvenience.”

However, “My guys are dreading coming down here, and I hate to say that, because of this,” he added while pointing the heavy Friday afternoon traffic, which mostly was moving beyond the speed limit.

Motorist should look for “Be Prepared to Stop” signage, which will be conspicuous going in both directions along this stretch of Northshore, Snowden added.

The next “smaller” step

If another roughly $150,000 of addition sales tax revenue again became available, at the end of this fiscal year, “what’s the next thing we could do on Northshore?” Schoonmaker asked.

Acknowledging that speeding is an issue on Northshore, “I think we could do something right in front of The Cove at Concord Park, at least maybe widen that and do something to get people to slow down a little bit,” he said. “But $150,000 may not be enough. We just don’t know.”

Snowden said adding a turn lane in that immediate area, “I would think would be in the $150,000 to $200,000 range.”