BY KEN LITTLE
The rubber won't hit the road until 2013 on the long-anticipated Ball Road reconstruction project, but Tusculum Mayor John Foster can live with that timetable.
It beats 2014, the mayor said this week.
When the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) apparently fast-tracked the Ball Road project with swift approval of a grant application in January, Foster and officials at Jarden Zinc Products were pleasantly surprised.
So the mayor was taken aback when he learned recently that TDOT didn't plan on letting a contract for the work until the second half of 2014.
Public officials interceded, including state Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville.
Hawk provided The Greeneville Sun with a copy of a letter he received on Aug. 20 from TDOT Commissioner John C. Schroer.
"I want to reassure you, the City of Tusculum, and Jarden Zinc Products that your concerns are of great importance," Schroer wrote.
PRIMARY ACCESS ROAD
Ball Road, which is partially in Tusculum, serves as the primary access route for trucks going to and from Jarden Zinc Products. It's also used by trucks exiting the county landfill.
About 80 heavy trucks use the road every day. The 650-foot segment of Ball Road in Tusculum is crumbling, and has been repaired numerous times by the City of Tusculum over the years.
The road is about 40 years old, and its unstable condition has safety implications, Mayor Foster said.
Because of planned expansion and additional jobs being added at Jarden Zinc, the city's State Industrial Access (SIA) road program grant, submitted in December, was approved in January.
That's lightning-fast by state standards, officials said at the time. About $700,000 in state funding was identified to fix the road.
TDOT will survey and design the improvements, obtain required permits, and reconstruct the road at no cost to Tusculum.
The acquisition of right-of-way and the relocation of utilities will be paid for on a 50-50 basis between TDOT and the city. Tusculum forwarded $109,000 to TDOT earlier this year as its share of the expenses.
FIRST 2014, NOW 2013
Then Foster learned the project apparently was not on a priority list, but TDOT officials that Foster has spoken with since have painted a more optimistic picture.
"When I heard [about the anticipated delay until 2014 in reconstructing the road]. I began to talk to some folks and [requested] moving it up a little bit.
"[Now], they expect to begin the actual work by 2013," he said. "That's a year sooner than they told me recently, so our phone calls spurred them on a little bit."
Ball Road isn't state-owned. The state built a railroad bridge on the road, which was eventually deeded to the county. Jarden Zinc is nearby, at 2500 Old Stage Road.
"The reason it was eligible for any money from the state is because Jarden Zinc expanded in the past year," Rep. Hawk said.
"We tried to find any possible way to qualify it for state assistance. We've had to work diligently at a state level to do this project. It still is very important."
Schroer apparently agrees, according to the letter he sent Hawk.
"The partnership created through the SIA Program is vital to enhance the ability of Jarden Zinc and the City of Tusculum to maintain their economic well-being and sustain future growth," Schroer wrote.
"Rest assured that the project is progressing well," he added.
Schroer said in the letter that the application/contract process began in December 2011 and ended on April 10, 2012, "when a fully executed contract was mailed to the City of Tusculum."
The executed contract allowed funding to be released for project development and a preliminary schedule was developed, Schroer wrote.
"My understanding is that the brunt of your concern was the proposed letting date of September 2014," he wrote to Hawk.
"This schedule was preliminary, and I am assured by my staff that there are areas in the schedule that will allow compression."
TDOT's goal, Schroer wrote, "is to deliver all projects in a timely manner, but emphasize expediency for the SIA projects, because of the industry's needs."
Tom Wennogle, Jarden Zinc president, said earlier this year that the road rebuilding project is "critical" to continued operations at the facility.
'SOME WORK HAD BEEN DONE'
The project is moving forward, Hawk said.
"A bunch of the environmental work was already done. Some of the folks working on the timeline were not aware that some of the environmental work was done a couple of years ago," he said.
Some right-of-way issues are still unresolved.
"The state is going to review the property to see exactly what needs to be done," Hawk said.
"I've encouraged them to speed up the process if at all possible."
BID LETTING IN 2013
Mark Nagi, TDOT spokesman for Region 1, which includes Greene County, said work is scheduled to begin next year.
"The plan is for this project to be placed in an Aug. 30, 2013, bid letting," Nagi said in an email response to questions.
Nagi said Ball Road was designed and built in the late 1960s and early 1970s, based upon specifications under the SIA Program, to serve what was then Ball Brothers, makers of the Ball Brothers Mason Jars.
"Contractually, the road is turned over to the local government to maintain after construction is complete.
"In 2009, at the request of the Cty of Tusculum, our Region 1 Design Section, with the help of our Geotechnical and Survey offices, put together a study that [projected the work would] require $534,000 worth of construction.
"We understood that the City of Tusculum could not afford to rebuild the road, but our options were limited at the time.
"Then Jarden Zinc decided to expand, and that falls within [the] 'Industrial Highway Act,'" he said.
Mayor Foster said work will include taking out existing fill and putting in riprap. TDOT will also "stabilize the banks and do some work on the bridge abutment to keep soil from slipping out from under the abutment," he said.
Foster indicated that he is reassured by all the recent attention to the project.
"I'm sure it will come out just fine when they get done with it," he said.
"I had hoped we would get it done this year instead of next year, but we will take what we can get."