After my election in 1978, six county executives from nearby counties came to ask me to serve as chairman of the Southeast Tennessee Development District. Planning districts mostly plan, and I was not interested in just planning for the sake of planning. I wanted to get some things accomplished.
I was impressed with the group and decided to give it a shot. They asked me to stay on each year for the next seven years, and we became an engine for progress in Southeast Tennessee. I am as proud of our work together as anything else that happened in my public service. A special bonus to me was the friendships we forged.
I told them my feelings, and they assured me they, too, wanted some action on projects in the district.
Our first test was when Gov. Ned McWherter said to me, "Dalton, the elected folks in Southeast Tennessee have asked for a new bridge as long as I remember but have never agreed on where to put it. If you can get them to agree on where to put it, I will build it."
We rented a room at a state park, and when everyone was present, I said, "We are here to agree on the location of a new bridge, and we are not leaving this room until we reach an agreement. The floor may get bloody, but can we agree we will stay here until we agree?" Everyone agreed.
We finally agreed on Highway 60 from Birchwood to Rhea County, and McWherter kept his word.
As we discussed the bridge, it was revealed that a major industry was thinking of leaving one county due to a bad access road to I-75. So we all agreed to help that county with its problem. Other pressing needs spun out of the discussion. We were learning about each other and committing ourselves to work for a solution to district problems.
Sen. Ray Albright was at the initial meeting, and at a later meeting in Meigs County, we met with all of the state legislators. In a short time, they got state agreement to build a second bridge at Highway 30. The fuss over the location of a bridge had always been between highways 30 and 60, and now we had bridges at both locations.
Major infrastructure gains like this help Chattanooga as well as all the other counties. Anytime you cut transportation costs, as you can with a bridge, you facilitate business within as well as outside the district. Blythe Ferry served to get people across the river from Birchwood to Rhea County and vice versa for many decades, but it was not attractive to commercial users. In other words, not good for business.
You can be certain that the rate of growth of the counties directly affected by the new bridges will be substantially improved, not to mention the convenience to all of our citizens.
In getting two bridges after years of gridlock, we demonstrated that the best way to gain regional infrastructure is with a regional organization that works.
Next week, I will conclude this series by showing what a bonanza regional job development could be for all of us.
Email Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com.