Organizers of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester will soon spend upwards of $250,000 to widen a bridge on Kimberly Lane and do paving work on Kimberly Lane and Grosch Drive near one of the back entrances to Great Stage Park.
Not all local residents are happy about the proposed improvements, however.
About 25 residents attended a Coffee County Rural Roads and Bridges Committee meeting last Tuesday night to voice their concerns that traffic from the annual Bonnaroo festival on the road will only increase once improvements are made to the narrow road.
“I’ve lived on that road since 1969,” resident Kevin Penick said during the meeting. “This issue [of widening the bridge and paving the road] hasn’t come up until Bonnaroo was restricted [last year]. It is a Bonnaroo benefit. I don’t have to have [the bridge] wider.”
Prior to the Bonnaroo 2013, the Rural Roads and Bridges Committee imposed a 6-ton weight limit on the bridge on Kimberly Lane that was to be activated prior to the 2014 festival. That restriction would have likely affected Bonnaroo’s traffic plan as the road is used for loading and unloading at the site.
But the committee lifted the restriction at its meeting last week after county attorney Bob Huskey informed members that such restrictions can’t be implemented by the county government because roads and bridges are governed by the road superintendent.
“My opinion is that the committee does not have that authority [to impose a weight limit],” Huskey told the committee.
Despite the weight restrictions being removed, Jeff Cuellar with AC Entertainment, which co-produces the annual festival with Superfly Presents, confirmed that Bonnaroo is willing to spend up to $250,000 to pay for widening of the bridge from 18 feet to 22 feet and to pave the two roads and widen them from 18 feet to 19 feet.
Cuellar responded to audience members who suggested that Bonnaroo seek alternate routes into the festival instead of disturbing their road.
“This is a major artery for us,” Cuellar said during the meeting via Skype. “Eliminating our use of that road will have detrimental effects to the entire system. It would increase traffic on Campground Road and New Bushy Branch Road. (Eliminating the use of Kimberly Lane) would set us back 10 years and could impact traffic for everyone.”
Cuellar later clarified the importance of the road in a phone conversation with the Manchester Times.
“How we bring in patrons, VIPs, workers, artists, volunteers … every entrance is strategically loaded,” said Cuellar. “We strategically utilize every entrance we have so we can have the fastest flowing traffic in and out of the festival and this is a key part of it.
“When I explained to the traffic manager (the potential of losing this entrance) I was scared he was going to combust. We have built these over a decade and losing a major artery would cripple us.”
Despite several residents appearing defiant to having the road disturbed, property owner Robert Sotherland spoke in favor of Bonnaroo paying for road improvements.
“Anytime you do improvements it improves the property,” Sotherland said. “In my opinion, how can you not want a better road? You aren’t going to stop Bonnaroo. We need to work with them and not against them.”
County Commissioner Keith Thacker said the county should take advantage of Bonnaroo’s offer and emphasized that the entire project will be paid for by Bonnaroo and not the county.
“We have an opportunity to do this out of Bonnaroo money and not county money,” Thacker said.
Countered Penick: “We aren’t just getting some improvements. It is to allow this heavy traffic.”
Some residents changed gears and voiced their displeasure with traffic congestion in the area during the festival and alleged that the heavy vehicles caused structural damage to the road.
“Somebody sunk the road” with a big truck, said resident Bobby Moore. “It sat there for three years and they came and fixed it last year. Those roads aren’t made for those weights.”
Road Superintendent Steve Parks suggested using temporary red lights in the area this year to help traffic flow more smoothly on the road. But when asked by the audience if he planned to implement a weight limit on the existing bridge, Parks said no.
Steve Moran with Rogers Group attended the meeting and stated that the bridge can be widened without shutting the road down. He added, “It looks like the structure is pretty much intact.”
According to an unofficial Tennessee Department of Transportation inspection of the bridge by Steve Hutchings dated Dec. 30, 2013, the structure would currently be rated “poor” by TDOT if it were officially inspected due to scouring under the bridge but he added that if it were repaired the bridge would be rated “fair.”
According to a letter sent from Hutchings to Coffee County Mayor David Pennington, “The structure itself is structurally sound but the stream conditions would require us to rate this box ‘poor’ due to the undermined floor. The stream has cut under the box allowing water to flow under the structure instead of through the structure. If this deficiency was repaired the structure would be rated fair and would be safe for all legal loads.”
According to Moran, that deficiency would be repaired during the widening of the bridge.
Even when the bridge is widened, Cuellar ensures residents that he plans to continue to reduce traffic in the area.
“Our intent is to continue to reduce traffic on Kimberly Lane and Grosch Drive,” he said. “Acquisition of new property has allowed us to divert some of that.”
Pennington said work on the road is set to begin soon with surveyors — paid for by Bonnaroo — expected to begin work immediately.
Action in this matter doesn’t have to pass the full county commission according to Huskey because the road superintendent oversees the roads.