Crash data misaligns with spending

Local residents and transportation officials have long been eyeing some major improvements aimed at increasing capacity and improving safety on Alcoa and Chapman highways in South Knoxville. These two expansive boulevards are main funnels for the throngs of commuters who motor to and from the suburbs of Alcoa, Maryville, and Seymour each weekday, and also help deliver drivers to any number of businesses lining those same strips.

Now, one of those highways is now set to begin the construction process for improvements—but it’s not the one that’s seen the highest number of automobile accidents or fatalities, a records analysis shows. Chapman Highway has had nearly triple the number of crashes, yet a small pool of available transportation dollars is first going to fixes on Alcoa Highway, which has also proven deadly, though not nearly as often.

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Moving mountains

The Knoxville Mercury rocks!Guidelines developed by the city of Knoxville and Knox County years ago to help regulate building on steep-sloping hillsides and ridge lines have gone underutilized and, at times, are not cited at all by local planning officials, a check of records reveals. Knox’s Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan (HRPP) proved controversial from the start, but it was ultimately adopted by both the city and the county. So why aren’t they using it more?

Now, four years after its passage, it’s worth looking back at the principles laid out in the HRPP to see how it has been put to work so far, the impact it is having on development, and if there is a need to do more to protect the natural environs that Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero says are critical for the region to develop into a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. But there’s more than just outdoor sports and tourism at stake. There’s the intrinsic value of unspoiled land and our quality of life, issues of pollution from runoff and erosion, deforestation and the potential implications of climate change, the delicate balance between property rights and government regulations, the influence of the local business community on politics, and fundamental differences between Rogero’s activist vision of government and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s anti-government philosophy—all conflicts and values wrapped up in this thick-bound book of standards and how they’re applied.

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“Project Hollywood” sweetens deal for corporate move

When private negotiations to move Regal Entertainment Group into a new corporate headquarters faltered in early 2015, Knoxville city officials stepped up to the plate, tax dollars in hand, to offer a sweetened deal that allows the entertainment giant to relocate into a renovated office building rent-free for 10 years.

According to more than 400 pages of emails obtained through a public records request, the deal for Regal and developer Southeastern Development Associates became a whole lot more lucrative once the city offered up $9 million and rent-free accommodations. County and state agencies kicked in another $3.5 million, offering the largest theatre chain in the U.S. a combined $12.5 million to stay in Tennessee. Negotiations were dubbed “Project Hollywood.”

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Top Knox 2015: The locals’ guide to Knoxville

Top Knox 2015 - the Knoxville MercuryHere it is: the ultimate guide to everything that Knoxvillians love most about Knoxville. This special issue features the top vote-getters in all the categories we could conjure that help define Knoxville and its quality of life. Among them are upset winners, beloved icons, and longtime favorites finally getting their due—plus names that you might not even recognize. All voiced and voted on by beloved readers and knowledgeable locals.

Some words and some photos by Clay Duda (along with a bunch of other people).

>> Check it out online

East Tennessee’s hemp pioneers

Meet East Tennessee's hemp pioneers. A Knoxville Mercury cover story by Clay Duda.Tucked in the hollows of Cocke County about an hour east of Knoxville, where rolling Tennessee hills meet the peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains, Charles Mason has turned his lush-green farmland into a testing ground.

“When I first heard about it, well, I guess I just looked at dollar signs,” Mason says with a smooth, Southern drawl. “If it yields what it’s supposed to, I feel it could be a good cash crop for a lot of people, and maybe it’s something that can help my son maintain the farm.”

Mason is growing one of the state’s first legal industrial hemp crops in more than 70 years. That’s right, weed’s cousin is now legal in Tennessee—at least for industrial farming and use in manufactured goods, with plenty of restrictions attached.

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>> Photo gallery: Hemp takes root in Tennessee