Hamilton County residents are now able to receive newly designed license plates, but avoiding long lines to get them in person seemed unlikely as of Friday.
The county has already issued more than 3,000 of the new blue plates, according to Brooke Weaver, chief deputy and accountant at the county clerk's office. But the office at the same time is dealing with an influx of visits because Friday was the first day emissions testing was no longer required for those registering their vehicles.
"This is nowhere near a normal day in the middle of the month," Weaver said in a Friday phone interview. "We've got all hands on deck."
In addition to in-person visits, online traffic has also skyrocketed, Weaver said. As of 1 p.m. Friday, there were 900 tag renewals online, which she said shows residents are "elated" not have to go through emissions testing.
In a news release from county clerk Bill Knowles later Friday, he attributed the traffic to the fact that residents had waited to renew their tags until after the emissions requirement ended.
"I encourage motorists to skip the line and consider renewing online if their tag has not been expired more than 90 days," Knowles said.
The new plates are available to anybody who needs to register a vehicle or who needs to renew their tags that expire in 2022.
The plates are not available to those whose tags expired sometime last year who may have wanted to wait for the emission requirement to end.
Eventually, every car in the county will have the new plates as the former green mountain plates are phased out, Weaver said.
As the county sees a surge in renewals, the state Department of Revenue is urging drivers who want to get the new plates early to delay doing so to help ease the burden on clerks' offices throughout the state.
"We ask people to renew during their registration and not early to ensure a smooth process for everyone," said Kelly Cortesi, spokesperson for the department, adding the state has issued about 100,000 plates in total.
For those who wish to avoid the long lines, residents can opt to apply for tag renewal on the county's website. They can also have the new plates mailed to them. The new plates will cost the usual $29 to renew, plus a $5 mailing fee. That's an increase above the usual $2 mailing fee for a sticker-only license plate renewal.
The emissions test requirement dates back to state and federal laws enacted to curb ozone pollution in 2005. In 2018, legislation by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and the late state Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, eliminated vehicle emissions testing in the state 120 calendar days following approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which came in August.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation announced last year that vehicle emissions testing in five Tennessee counties would end in January because of improved air quality and a revision to the state's air quality plan.
In addition to Hamilton County, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties will no longer require emissions testing. Davidson County, which includes Nashville, decided to continue the program.
Contact Logan Hullinger at email@example.com or 814-319-5158. Follow him on Twitter @LoganHullinger.