CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The Bradley County Road Committee narrowly approved a Norfolk Southern proposal to close its railroad crossing on Old Weatherly Switch Road, on the rail line between here and Cohutta, Ga.
The committee voted 2-1 Wednesday in favor of the measure after listening to a Bradley County Road Department assessment of the situation. Bradley County Commissioners Robert Rominger and Terry Caywood voted to recommend the proposal's approval by the full County Commission. Commissioner Mel Griffith, who chairs the Road Committee, voted against it.
However, Caywood and Griffith expressed reservations and said they might reverse their positions when the issue comes before the Bradley County Commission. Caywood said his full support was contingent upon touring the Old Weatherly Switch Crossing.
"I want [it] understood that I might change my mind if I go out there and see a different situation from what I expect," Caywood said.
Norfolk Southern would like to close the crossing because there is another railroad crossing less than 1,000 feet away, located on Tennessee Highway 317, which has the similar name of Weatherly Switch Road.
Closing what the railroad views as a redundant crossing will boost safety along that stretch of rail line, according to a presentation to the Bradley County Commission last month by Norfolk Southern representative William Miller.
The impact on nearby residential traffic is expected to be minimal, according to transportation studies and test drives performed by Miller. Having to reroute traffic from the closed crossing would cause less than two minutes in additional driving time.
In addition to safety incentives, the county could receive up to $30,000 of financial assistance from Norfolk Southern and the Tennessee Department of Transportation if it moves forward with the proposed closure.
"From the Road Department's standpoint, we're sort of neutral on it, but I feel like it would be safer if there were only one crossing ... on 317," said Road Superintendent Tom Collins.
Another concern, Collins said, is that by closing the targeted crossing, the county could avoid $15,000 or more in expenses associated with making improvements to a large cross drain.
In all, the decision to close the Old Weatherly Switch Road crossing could affect the county's bottom line by $45,000, adding money received and saved, Collins said.
Another possible benefit is that Norfolk Southern might consider making crossing and gate improvements to the remaining crossing on Highway 317, said Collins, who expressed doubt that the railroad would engage in such a project if both crossings remained operative.