SIDEBAR-Planning commission

New Salem Highway near Interstate 24 and Warrior Drive is a sea of blockades as widening takes place to the roadway and bridges. The widening is an attempt to keep pace with traffic congestion and the addition of hundreds of homes and nearby businesses such as Costco.

While the entire county is exploding with growth, the western and southern sides of Murfreesboro seem especially gridlocked with miles of orange barrels, road closures and clogged intersections even as developers break ground on new homes and businesses to accommodate demand.

The red-hot growth includes the new Rockvale High School and the new Salem Elementary School to the south. Rutherford County Schools plans to open an elementary school in Christiana in two years as well.

New Salem Highway and Cason Lane are feeling the growing pains.

The New Salem Highway (Highway 99) area at Warrior Drive and Interstate 24 is booming with a business park called West Point. Announced tenants coming soon include Costco, a RaceTrac convenience store, U-Haul, an anonymous aerospace manufacturer, an indoor gun range and an RV dealership.

A 2.2-mile stretch of New Salem Highway from Interstate 24 to Cason Lane is being widened. Phase 2 will start at a later date and will widen 1.4 miles to Old Fort Parkway, the City of Murfreesboro announced last year, when it also said the Stones River greenway would be closed from the Cason Trailhead to past the Highway 99 overpass. The trailhead park is open for parking and other activities. The other end of the greenway remains open. The projected re-opening date of the closed portion is Nov. 30, 2020.

The city’s 2040 Major Transportation Plan recognizes this area’s challenges, officials say, including plans for two future bridges crossing over Interstate 24 to improve internal city traffic flow. The topic came up at Wednesday night’s Murfreesboro Planning Commission meeting when Hidden River Estates was up for rezoning. Approximately 21 neighbors raised a variety of concerns, especially on traffic congestion and safety. 

Concerns over Hidden River Estates, a future development calling for 620 homes plus commercial uses along the Cason Trailhead greenway, prompted neighbors to form an alliance called Save Our Green Spaces.

Although Hidden River Estates will not be as dense as rezoning would allow, the developers over time have increased the planned density as the project has taken shape, Tavner McKelley, an organizer of Save Our Green Spaces, told the Murfreesboro Post. 

As far as existing congestion, she said many neighbors already leave for work 45 minutes early.

“We’re wondering where’s the point where you can determine it’s too dangerous to add more (traffic), and it feels like there’s no point, they are just going to keep adding,” she said.

Impact on traffic

McKelley questioned whether the developer’s traffic study gathered data from the Old Fort and New Salem exit points.

During the meeting, Planning Commissioner Ken Halliburton said he was satisfied the developer did a proper traffic study.

Bill Huddleston of Huddleston-Steele Engineering, representing the developer, defended the traffic study that he conducted and said it followed industry standards, including measuring traffic flow when school is in session. 

Hidden River Estates would add an estimated 4 percent to the traffic at the Old Fort-Cason Lane exit point, Huddleston said, adding that is an intersection for which the city is studying traffic flow.

Neighbors say they continue to have concerns about traffic.

Jacquelyn Brown is another member of Save Our Green Spaces. She said she has lived in the neighborhood near the park for two years, and for all that time, the traffic has become worse. She wakes up at 4:30 a.m. so she can exit her neighborhood by 5 a.m. for her commute to Nashville. That allows her to spend 40 minutes on the road versus two hours if she left by 6 a.m., she said.

Not only is New Salem Highway traffic bad, but Cason Lane traffic exiting onto Highway 96 is terrible, she said, adding she can sit through three red lights and still never move.

“The intersection is perpetually blocked by cars that can’t go anywhere,” Brown said. “When the city says trust us … you have no right to ask for my trust anymore.”

She said the city needs to “take a step back” from high density development that crams a lot of people in. She said she questions the need for new amenities when they bring more traffic.

“I felt like we had a great set of amenities to start with,” Brown said. “I had several grocery stores I could get to. Some people are probably excited for Costco. I don’t have a general issue with development, but if city streets aren’t built to handle it and you don’t have a plan to realistically improve it … I can’t really look forward to those amenities because I can’t access them.”

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