ORN residents, City Council debate future of Robinson Road

ORN residents, City Council debate future of Robinson RoadOak Ridge North residents and City Council members agree that traffic on Robinson Road is becoming a problem. However, solutions to the increasing congestion are still in the debate phase.

The process of widening and realigning Robinson Road to ease traffic was first proposed in the $350 million Montgomery County road bond plan that was rejected by voters in May. Since then, with no readily available funds or resources, city officials have put the renovation on hold. However, city planners are still considering realignment.

The project would widen the road from two to three lanes with a center reversible lane from I-45 to east of the Union Pacific Railroad. It would also align the road west of Hanna Road to connect and meet with Robinson Road east of Hanna Road. Several homes and businesses would need to be demolished as the proposed route cuts through existing properties.

Jess Larson, headmaster of Oak Ridge Christian Academy and pastor of Oak Ridge Reformed Baptist Church, expressed concern regarding the direction that the city government is taking in promoting the widening and realignment of Robinson Road. The academy and church are both located on Robinson Road and in the line of the proposed realigment.

“This would divert the road through a sanctuary and school property and make it impossible to keep doing worship and school,” Larson said. “The entire city would be impacted, also, especially the folks living on Robinson Road. They would lose the homes they’ve been in for decades.”

A petition presented to City Council at a Sept. 14 meeting by Citizens for Less Traffic on Robinson Road stated city residents do not want the widening and realignment of Robinson Road. The petition also said the city’s comprehensive plan, which was adopted by the city in June 2013, does not address the concerns of the community. In addition, the petition said the desire of the citizens is to promote other methods to reduce traffic on Robinson Road.

Effects on citizens

Charis Beal, an ORN resident and one of the creators of the petition, spoke at a rally for citizens that was held before the presentation of the petition to the council.

“The best way to help city leaders to understand the numbers of people against the widening of Robinson Road is that 422 residents signed this petition in two months … the support is strong throughout all of Oak Ridge North,” Beal said. “We are seeking to maintain the quality of life of Oak Ridge—our friends and neighbors are facing losing their homes where they experienced cherished family memories.”

Larson said city officials do not realize the extent of the damage that will be done with the road’s alignment.

“We need every square inch of acre we’re on, and the road is going to take that up,” Larson said. “There’s also going to be an immediate impact on 14 homes. The city claims not every home will be impacted, but if the road doesn’t go through a whole house, it will still go through someone’s front yard.”

Larson said both citizens and city officials know traffic is a problem on the city’s main road, but some residents believe the comprehensive plan that was put in place two years ago does not take the views of ORN citizens into account when addressing traffic.

“A few years ago they had a workshop, and it just talked about adding new trails, adding a splashpad and how everyone did not like traffic,” he said. “But then the actual solutions later were to widen Robinson Road and also take out businesses to add on a new plaza district, and that wasn’t done with the agreement of citizens.”

City solutions

Vicky Rudy, ORN City Manager, said residents provided feedback in 2013 on the traffic and possible solutions for Robinson Road during meetings and workshops.

“We had a lot of input at that time, over 400 residents said Robinson Road was a priority,” Rudy said. “The comprehensive plan is just a concept plan. We were just responding to the community and ideas became reality. Robinson Road is one of the top issues that Oak Ridge citizens have always had.”

According to the comprehensive plan, congestion concerns focus on issues “concerning facilitating movement within the city itself, and in particular between the north and the south portions of the city. That especially applies to easing congestion around key intersections, such as Robinson Road.”

The plan also said traffic at the intersection at Robinson and Hanna roads surpassed 11,000 trips per day, with congestion along Robinson Road hindering the ability to travel across the city.

Rudy said the city is now looking at revisiting the three-lane counterflow plan, an original plan the city considered prior to the May bond election. Another engineering study for Robinson Road may also be possible in the future but not until new ideas are presented to the City Council and assessed by an engineer, Rudy said.

“We’ll be having a public meeting to help assess and envision new options,” she said. “I’m hoping to have different solutions, showing the impact of each option, the cost and what it would look like.”

Rudy said the city is accepting resident feedback via email and letters to City Hall for solutions to alleviating Robinson Road traffic.

Beal said when citizens signed their petitions, their solutions and suggestions were also provided and given to City Council members to consider.

“Oak Ridge North is a sleepy bedroom community, and we want to keep it that way,” Beal said. “We all agree that widening and realigning Robinson Road is not the desired solution for the community.