Traffic back ups and growing pains

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- It's the nightmare they may face each day, being one of the 35-thousand cars a day that travel on Highway 66 in Sevier County. For thousands of tourists, it's the only way in and the only way out.

Since January of 2009, the TDOT has been working to widen 66 to 3 lanes in each direction, tackling the project in 3 phases. The next completion date is expected to be November 30.

"When the state completes what they're trying to do, then it's going to be a lot better for folks that live here and our visitors to get in and out of the county," said Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters.

Waters also serves on the county's transportation board, along with city managers from Sevierville and Gatlinburg. Waters says the group has been working on long range plans once the Highway 66 project is finished.

On Highway 66, the group is working with TDOT to synchronized traffic signals. Studies have shown this plan will improve traffic flow from Interstate 40 all the way into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

"It is an issue, there's no question about it," Waters added about traffic in the county. "I think with improved signalization and studies are indicating this, that we can improve our traffic flow substantially throughout the county."

An expansion is in the works for Highway 321 from Gatlinburg to Pittman Center. This project is expected to start near the completion of Highway 66.

Another immediate plan in the works will be changes to the interchange at Interstate 40. TDOT is working on adding what's called a diverging diamond. Changes to the intersection will cost up to $13 million and could start as early as 2014.

"The interchanges here need to be fix, that's in the planning stage and getting people in and out of here is an issue," said Congressman Phil Roe. "I think it's a huge problem here, but it's not just federal, it's state also."

Future plans also call for expanding other roads in the county. Mayor Waters say they're exploring ways to expand Veterans Boulevard in Sevierville to Interstate 40, and the Pellissippi Parkway in Blount County over to Chapman Highway.

"It'll do a couple of things for us, it'll be another way into the county, and also better access to the airport," said Waters.

The current road projects were funded through a $150 million road plan approved by the state in 1994.

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