Unicoi County

Traffic problem in Erwin could soon be stopped in tracks

ERWIN, Tenn. - A traffic problem in a local town could soon be stopped in its tracks.

People in Erwin say they're fed up with the railroad tracks there and the trains that often hold up drivers, but a construction project in the works could soon change that.

Our news car actually got caught in traffic because of a train while looking into this story, and we saw more than one impatient driver turn around to find another route.

A sea of brake lights and flashing railroad lights on State Route 107 -- you might say traffic in Erwin comes to a standstill when a train rolls through.

We asked driver Julie Hartlett how long she expected to wait. "Twenty minutes. I don't know, a long wait," she said.

But there's light at the end of the tunnel: there's a soon-to-be bridge being constructed nearby that's expected to improve accessibility and ease congestion.

Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch says this project has taken nearly 25 years for the Town of Erwin to get started, and funding issues by the state posed some challenges. "Some of the projects that were on the table had to be pulled off," he said.

Besides the obvious inconvenience, Mayor Lynch believes the new bridge will be a big help to public safety. "When we had the fire at the Municipal Building, the Johnson City Fire Department actually got caught by a train," added Lynch.

We learned just over five percent of the project is complete and TDOT officials estimate it will be finished by October 2014.

While it's good news for some, other drivers say they don't agree with building a new bridge. "There's not that many trains running right now like there used to be due to the coal industry. If there were a lot of trains it might be a different issue. But for me, no, I don't think it's a good idea right now," said driver Karen Hensley.

Another thing we learned about this project: 80 percent is funded federally while the rest is funded by the state.

Mayor Lynch says he believes this new bridge could spur retail growth simply because of the added convenience.

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