Hamilton County Commissioner Joe Graham stood near a railroad bridge at the beginning of Cummings Highway on Tuesday, asking state and federal representatives for help with what he says have been two long-standing traffic bottlenecks.
He asked U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.; state Sen. Bo Watson and state Rep. Richard Floyd, both R-Chattanooga, to meet him for a drive down Cummings Highway to see the bridges. Both Floyd and Fleischmann sit on committees overseeing transportation in their respective legislative bodies.
"When Cummings Highway stops up, that congests St. Elmo, too," Graham said. "[Drivers] are virtually stuck."
Two railroad bridges on Cummings Highway concern Graham -- one in St. Elmo at the foot of Lookout Mountain where Cummings turns into South Broad Street, and one in Lookout Valley near Browns Ferry Road -- that act like rubber bands squeezing a four-lane stretch of road.
Graham said the bridges have been problems for at least 15 years. Things are worse when Interstate 24 backs up, sending drivers down Cummings Highway, the alternate route, he said.
The bottlenecks are potential public safety threats in the event of an evacuation. He questioned how emergency vehicles sometimes get down the mountain.
Watson said his research showed the two intersections weren't registered with the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the state body that plans and prioritizes state infrastructure projects. The step is necessary to address the situation, he said.
"These transportation projects, there's a systematic and formal process these go through," Watson said.
He advised Graham to call the state and get the project listed with the MPO.
Fleischmann said Graham should start by working with the state and that he would help as much as he could on the federal level.
"We deal with the railroads on a regular basis directly and they're usually very communicative," he said.
Floyd said an additional problem with the bridges is that tractor-trailers regularly get stuck beneath the spans at Cummings Highway and South Broad.
"I don't know how many times we've let air out of tires to get them from out [from] under there," he said.