KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — The City of Kingsport is pursuing a plan that would alter traffic flow in part of the city near Eastman Chemical Company and in the MeadowView area.
City officials say the project could add a couple of minutes to some people’s commutes but would lead to new industrial and business development.
The plan: close Jared Drive — instead of relocating it as previously proposed — and get the state to pay for a new road between the MeadowView area and Riverport Road.
At its southern end, the road would connect to Wilcox Drive near the Eastman Credit Union Support Center and behind the Kingsport Aquatic Center. Its northern end would connect to Riverport Road at the bridge over the Holston River sluice.
The new 2.24-mile, two-lane road would be named Meadow Park Lane, and Eastman would donate 21 acres of land for the new road.
Tuesday night, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved an application to the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s State Industrial Access (SAI) Program for the construction of the new road. Through the program, the state contracts with cities and counties to build roads to provide access to industrial areas and facilitate industrial development.
According to the city’s application, TDOT would virtually cover the entire bill for the $28.7 million project.
The city says the proposed road project is part of Project Inspire, which was announced in 2013. It involved Eastman making a long-term commitment to its future in Kingsport by investing $1.6 billion in its Kingsport facilities. In return, the city and the state committed to making infrastructure improvements in connection with Eastman’s reinvestment projects, like the company’s corporate business center on Wilcox Drive.
One of the infrastructure improvements Eastman requested was the closure of Jared Drive. The current road bisects Eastman property, which limits the property’s usability. Closing the road would give Eastman more space for future development and allow the company to expand its rail infrastructure.
In 2020, the city planned to relocate Jared Drive by building a new route along the Holston River sluice. But according to the city, that plan was abandoned because it would have resulted in no new developable land, a loss of 10 acres of existing industrial land, and required a buffer to the sluice.
City officials say the new Meadow Park Lane proposal would create 108 acres of land suitable for industrial and business development. Some of that land may be used by Eastman, which is interested in moving some assets from its main Kingsport plant to the developable property the project would create, according to Deputy City Manager Ryan McReynolds.
The city believes industrial development along the new road could generate an additional $138,478 in annual property tax revenue. Two proposed business parks near MeadowView could generate an extra $602,409 in annual property tax revenue, but city officials said it could take 15 years or so before those areas are developed. However, the new industrial development areas could be built out in just three years, they said.
The city will have to pay just over $1 million for right-of-way and utility relocation.
During Tuesday’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, Mayor Pat Shull acknowledged that closing Jared Drive would affect traffic flow in the area.
“There’s some inconvenience that would occur in terms of traffic patterns, but it’s — I’m giving you an opinion — but in my view, it’s minor compared to the gain of enabling Eastman to have more manufacturing space to operate,” Shull said.
The city anticipates that closing Jared Drive would add two minutes of extra travel time for someone traveling between Moreland Drive and Riverport Road. The road currently sees 5,500 trips per day to and from Eastman and 4,300 pass-through trips per day.
In addition to the benefits for Eastman and the 108 acres of developable land, the city says the new road would also improve travel time from West Kingsport and the Ridgefields community to MeadowView and Interstate 26.
If the state approves the city’s SAI application, the city could close Jared Drive to through-traffic later this year. It is expected to take three to four years to complete the Meadow Park Lane project.