RIVERSIDE, Tenn. - Mother Nature has been unkind to the old route U.S. Highway 41 takes around Aetna Mountain between Haletown and Lookout Valley.
A seven-mile section of the road in Marion County is marked with abrupt dips and bumps, collapsing shoulders, damaged guardrails and some areas where guardrails dangle in the air above the ground.
The road isn’t used the same way it was in its heyday, but it still gets plenty of traffic, according to Tennessee Department of Transportation officials. In 2012, 2,246 vehicles traveled between Haletown and the county line every day, records show.
The battered section of asphalt that runs through the Riverside community is due for almost $1 million in work to make it a little smoother and safer, officials say. Meantime, a portable sign warns drivers of a “rough road ahead” and “speed limit 35 mph.”
Longtime Marion County residents Terry Tate and Jay Thomas agree the old road needs help, especially with the recent rains, but they both doubt any fix will last long.
Tate, 59, and Thomas, 73, are commercial catfishermen in Riverside who have worked together the last few decades at Thomas’ business, Jay’s Furniture and Catfish. They travel up and down old U.S. 41 on a daily basis.
“They need to redo it. It’s rough,” Tate said early Monday as he stood alongside his small fishing boat.
“That boat’ll jump up off the trailer this high,” he said, indicating about a foot in height. “And that’s just at 30 [mph].”
The stretch of U.S. 41 the catfish business and the two fishermen call home used to be called the “Mile Straight” because the road carved a near-straight line through the little community of Riverside, they said.
“It was straight, but it’s not straight no more. The road just keeps sinking,” Tate said.
Thomas said TDOT’s battle with Riverside’s piece of U.S. 41 is nothing new.
“They’ve been fighting that road for 50 years,” he said. “They built the road on the bedrock, but the mountain keeps moving.”
TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said the state plans more than $909,000 worth of work on the road over the next two years. The first part of the project — resurfacing — is about to start.
“The resurfacing project will begin soon at McBrien Lane and go eastward 6.5 miles to the Hamilton County line,” Flynn said in an email. That project will be finished by Oct. 31.
Later this summer, another contractor will begin soil-nailing work “to stabilize the sections [of mountainside] between Haletown and McBrien Lane that are sliding. Then next spring, another project will be let to resurface the route from Haletown to McBrien Lane,” Flynn said.
<em>Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569.</em>