By Elena Cawley, Staff Writer
Coffee County has been awarded a grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) for a $6 million project to widen New Bushy Branch and Ragsdale roads in Manchester, according to Bonnaroo representatives.
The initiative would widen the portion of Ragsdale Road from where it meets State Route 55 (McMinnville Highway) to where it intersects with New Bushy Branch Road; and from New Bushy Branch Road to Shedd Road.
The plan is to provide a third lane, or turn lane, which would aid the flow of traffic to and from Interstate 24 when activities are held at the Great Stage Park, the 700-acre home of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
To apply for the 50/50 matching grant, Coffee County officials partnered with Bonnaroo representatives, and, in November, county commissioners approved a resolution to move forward with the project.
Because the bridge on New Bushy Branch Road is in Manchester’s city limits, officials with the city also sent a letter of approval for the grant application.
TDOT has informed both Coffee County and Manchester officials that the requested funds will be provided by TDOT for the project.
The replacement of the bridge over Wolf Creek is expected to cost about $2 million, and the grant funds will cover 80 percent of that expense.
The road upgrade is expected to cost between $4 and $5 million, with the grant covering 50 percent.
Bonnaroo representatives say the objective is for the matching funds to be paid with funds collected from ticket fees. Festival representatives have proposed a $4 fee for each ticket sold to go to an infrastructure fund.
“The goal is that no money comes out of the pockets of residents of Coffee County,” said Sam Reed, who represents Bonnaroo. “The project is going to be paid by the state and Bonnaroo’s guests.”
Reed leads the negotiations for the new contract between festival’s organizers and Coffee County. The previous agreement, which had been in place for 10 years, ended June 30.
County officials and festival’s representatives have been working on a new agreement for several months. Talks began shortly after the previous contract expired, with hopes of signing a contract by the end of 2017. However, no vote approving a new deal has been held yet.
The biggest difference between the expired contract and the proposed one is that, previously, festival’s organizers paid to the county a $30,000 annual flat fee and $3 per ticket sold. That generated about $250,000 for the county’s general fund.
According to the proposed agreement, the annual fee will be eliminated and a $4 fee per each ticket sold will be diverted to an infrastructure fund to be used for improvements on or around the festival’s grounds.
The upcoming event, set for June 7-10, can be held without a new deal in place, say Bonnaroo officials.
However, a new contract is necessary to allow the road project to move forward because TDOT would provide the grant money to the local government and not to Bonnaroo, which is privately operated.
Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell has previously suggested that if a new contract is not signed before June, county officials would like to extend the expired contract for a year.
However, festival’s representatives say continuing the previous agreement is not an option.
If a new agreement is not in place before this year’s event, a $4 fee per each ticket sold will be collected and held for the road project, according to Bonnaroo representatives. Nevertheless, they hope a deal will be reached before this year’s festival, and work on the project would begin as soon as Bonnaroo 2018 is over.
The expired contract, first negotiated in 2006, only mentioned Bonnaroo as a possible event at the site and did not refer to possibilities for holding additional events or any fees that would be collected from other events.
Other additional costs incurred by local government that are covered by Bonnaroo include additional overtime pay for law enforcement, expenses for ambulance service and road maintenance, and repairs incurred as a direct result of damage caused by traffic from Bonnaroo. These conditions remain the same in the proposed contract.
With the possibility for additional events held on the site, Bonnaroo representatives say infrastructure improvements are necessary. The funding stream for these upgrades would be created through redirecting the ticket fees, which would apply to all events held on the site, to an infrastructure fund.
Elena Cawley may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.