Dear Mr. Secretary (The Honorable Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation):
I am writing to express my wholehearted support of the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s (TDOT’s) 2021 RAISE Grant Proposal for I-75 Smart Fiber in rural Tennessee. The I-75 corridor runs through the county commission district which I proudly serve. In fact, my family’s farm was split in two by the interstate back in the late 1960s/early 1970s.
Anderson County lies about 25 minutes north of downtown Knoxville, where I-75 intersects I-40, making our geographic location convenient and accessible to much of the U.S. population within a day’s drive.
Though only about 345 square miles, our county of almost 78,000 residents is very diverse geographically and economically. We house the nation’s uranium stockpile in Oak Ridge and have world-renowned scientists and innovators, yet still have individuals only a few miles away without running water available to them.
We have three interstate exits in Anderson County off I-75, and the contrast between them reflects the same disparity as the rest of our county. Exit 122, located in my district, has been experiencing a commercial development boom for close to two decades now and is the fastest growing area in the county. However, six miles up the road at the 128 and 129 exits, the City of Rocky Top falls under the USDA designation of a food desert because of the distance residents now live from an operating supermarket.
A federal/state/local partnership toward providing broadband infrastructure along our corridor would greatly incentivize investment in more depressed areas such as Rocky Top, while providing sustainable development and competitiveness for areas such as the Norris/Clinton exit 122.
This grant wouldn’t just be good for business; it would also be great for people. I have received more calls requesting the county do more to encourage rural broadband expansion than any other item since I was elected to County Commission in 2018.
Calls for broadband increased dramatically during the pandemic, as parents were literally driving their school aged-kids to fast-food restaurant parking lots and sitting for hours so they could complete school work with the business’s wi-fi because there wasn’t sufficient bandwidth at home. I’ve had calls from small business owners who say they cannot operate their businesses from their rural homes or in rural areas and stay competitive due to the lack of broadband.
My district runs to the shores of beautiful Norris Lake. I’ve heard of several incidents which have occurred near there where an injured person had to be taken all the way back to a landline in order to call for help, because of the lack of signal/service. Broadband availability is an urgent public safety issue in 2021.
I have referenced a couple of these examples already, but I would like to close by touching on the other times in history when Anderson County has benefited from Federal Investment. Norris Dam was the first dam built by TVA in the 1930s, providing affordable electricity and jobs to people in Anderson County, many of whom were living in the same unchanged conditions since the end of The Civil War. The Manhattan Project of the 1940s built the “Secret City” of Oak Ridge and helped win World War II. Clinton High School was the first court ordered high school to be integrated in the South during the 1950s. The students, known as The Clinton 12, helped blaze a trail toward a more perfect union for us all. Finally, the construction of I-75 itself allowed Anderson County to have a more dynamic future as coal production in the northern end of the county ended and certain manufacturing jobs moved away. I don’t believe I’m exaggerating when I say that a broadband investment at this crucial moment will have the same transformative impact on Anderson County and its residents as TVA, The Manhattan Project, Brown vs. Board of Education, and the Eisenhower Interstate System had on our parents and grandparents.
Anderson County Commission