published Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Bradley County offers to split Benton Pike work costs

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Bradley County has offered to split $1 million in expenses with the city for Benton Pike road improvements linked to the planned relocation of Whirlpool.

The Bradley County Commission voted 11-2 late Monday to limit the scope of a proposed project to upgrade portions of Benton Pike, Durkee Road and Michigan Avenue. However, the passed resolution also stated the county would "continue to seek funding for further improvements on Durkee Road."

"It's a workable solution," said Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis, who told the commission that the county did not have the money to fully fund its share of the entire project.

The $4 million project amounted to $1.6 million in local government costs to the county and $336,000 in expenditures for the city, according to Tennessee Department of Transportation estimates. The state would pay the other $2 million.

The existing proposal split costs between the county and city for portions of roadwork within the city and gave the county full responsibility for roadwork solely within county jurisdiction.

If the city agrees with the county's proposal, it will need to pitch in an additional $160,000 toward Benton Pike improvements. Davis said he believed that 90 percent of the Benton Pike portions to be improved already fell within the city.

Commissioners Jeff Morelock and Ed Elkins, who both voted against the Benton Pike plan, voiced misgivings. Both made failed motions for other plans in a finance committee meeting before the commission voting session.

"I'm very concerned about our commitment to Whirlpool," said Morelock, who made a motion that the county commit to funding its $1.6 million share of the entire project.

"What does it say to the industrial community if we back out?" asked Morelock.

Davis countered that the county did what the commission initially agreed to do back in September 2010: apply for state assistance for road improvements regarding the Whirlpool relocation project.

"We can't afford to do it all," said Davis, adding that the project grew and became very expensive regardless of how the county and city intended to jointly fund it.

Commissioner Ed Elkins made a motion that the county fund Durkee Road improvements for an estimated $1 million and let the city be responsible for Benton Pike upgrades.

Elkins said he expects the numerous right-of-way expenses associated with Durkee Road -- involving 59 property tracts, according to TDOT appraisers -- to increase in the future.

"This is the best plan we have," Commissioner Jeff Yarber said.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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