Flaw in the Formula: Student study questions TDOT plan

By: John Treanor
By: John Treanor

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) --- The James White Parkway is a main artery for Knoxville, slicing past downtown and ending abruptly on a two lane road.

If you take it to this dead end you'll pass traffic cones and no parking signs, the calling card of future construction crews.

The Department of Transportation wants to expand it from that dead end to the John Sevier Highway.

Traffic engineers are trying to convince neighbors it's a good idea but to do that they not talking about the parkway.

They're talking about Chapman Highway. Specifically where the Henley Street Bridge spills out, or will when it's finished.

It's been under construction for two years but soon the cars will come.

TDOT says when that happens Chapman Highway won't be able to handle the traffic. They have the numbers to prove it.

You can find those numbers in a 430 page environmental impact report available to the public. But if you don't feel like digging through the stack of paper TDOT makes it simple.

They made it a key bullet point in a 7 page handout.

Hundreds of people got this handout at a public meeting asking about support for the expansion.

It says "The No-Build Alternative would not meet future
traffic demands projected for Chapman Highway."

Those projections say traffic will increase over Henley Street every year, so dramatically that by 2035 more than 63,000 cars will make the trip.

But one of the people that saw that projection also happened to be a engineering student at the University of Tennessee.

He says the numbers just don't add up.

"We started looking at the data they were using to build their models," Adam Sullivan told us, "And when you look at it you start to scratch your head about where these projections are coming from."

Sullivan, a PhD candidate at UT ran the TDOT numbers himself, In his closet sized office, on his laptop.

He walked us through his findings.

"If you take the last four years and project a 3% growth you get to 63000 pretty easily the problem is if you go back twenty years...."

That's where Adam saw a problem. When you move the chart back two decades, the traffic numbers jump around. There's no pattern and Sullivan says if you look at that you can't predict anything.

"Using the data they have," The student explains, "there's really no evidence that theres even an increase in traffic over 25 years."

"You just can't predict it?" We asked.

"Yeah. You can't predict an increase."

When we asked them about Sullivan's findings TDOT declined the interview.

Simply saying they were revisiting their counts, reviewing their numbers and releasing a new enviornmental impact study in April.

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