The Sullivan County Commission decided to let the county’s Highway Department improve an existing road to the new West Ridge High School in late January — but the commission has approved an updated plan that outlines the improvements in more detail and scratches all mentions of the Blountville school.
The original resolution, which easily passed Jan. 21, authorized the Sullivan County Highway Department “to develop plans to widen Lynn Road for better access to and exit from the new West Ridge High School.”
The new version, which passed just as easily at the commission’s Thursday meeting, originally included that language about better access to West Ridge and explicitly mentioned the school in several other places.
But Kingsport Commissioner Todd Broughton, who sponsored both the updated resolution and the one from January, told the commission he was cutting those mentions.
“It doesn’t matter why we’re widening Lynn Road,” Broughton said. “[The Highway Department is] just going to concentrate on the road, not any structure on the road.”
The new resolution also lists the specific improvements the department is planning — widening the road to 24 feet, establishing a 25 mph speed limit, securing the necessary rights of way and installing speed tables, signs and potentially some guardrails.
It also includes adding center-line reflectors to both Lynn Road and Henry Harr Road (the latter connects to the former) and repaving portions of both roads.
“The reason this resolution [has] come out is because we needed more specific detail of the work we’re doing,” Broughton said.
He added that the Highway Department’s planned improvements to Lynn Road were not being made because of safety issues that needed to be addressed.
“This is not a safety issue. … It’s just improvements for the road — it’s just to make things better,” Broughton said. “That’s all we’re trying to do, is make the traffic a little better.”
In early February, the commission flatly rejected the school board’s latest proposal to build a new access road to West Ridge, a decision that sparked intense criticism from school board members. The latter have asserted that, even with improvements, Lynn Road won’t be able to safely accommodate the new traffic that will accompany the school’s opening in August.
“When the County Commission turned down our proposal, they basically assumed the responsibility for getting our students to school safely,” Board Chairman Randall Jones said of the commission’s no vote. “It was a political vote ... rather than a vote on what’s best for our students.”
At Thursday’s meeting, Kingsport Commissioner Larry Crawford defended the commission’s decision, saying he was against that new proposed road — which he thought was unsafe — and not a safe route to West Ridge.
“I want a safe route ... into the school. And I will vote to spend money to get that,” Crawford said. “I’m just not for that particular route that they proposed to us.”
After another commissioner expressed a similar opinion, Street stepped into the conversation with a reminder that it might not be legally safe to use the word “safe” so much.
“It’s one thing to say we could make the access [to the school] better, more convenient, move better, flow better,” Street said. “But to say it’s unsafe — we shouldn’t throw that around, because that’s got ramifications.”
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