NASHVILLE — Two state lawmakers from Hamilton County are putting Tennessee Transportation Commissioner John Schroer on notice that they want the department to move faster to fix problems on U.S. Highway 127 as the road goes up Signal Mountain.
The road, known locally as Signal Mountain Boulevard, is a key link between Signal Mountain and Chattanooga. Rocks falling onto the road are a regular occurrence during rain, Signal Mountain Town Manager Boyd Veal said.
"It varies, depending on the intensity of the rain, in terms of quantity as well as size," he said. "We've had some pretty good-sized rocks come off that obviously could seriously damage vehicles and potentially cause injury."
If a major rock slide were to take place, it could shut the road down, forcing thousands of residents to use the windy, two-lane W Road.
Citing concerns in a letter dated Monday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, told Schroer the long-awaited project has now reached a "critical stage" and was a factor in their decision to back Gov. Bill Haslam's 2017 Improve Act, which raised gas taxes to kick-start hundreds of road projects across Tennessee.
"We are pleased, of course, that the Highway 127 project is included in the TDOT report," the lawmakers wrote. "What is disappointing to us is there appears to have been no change in the status of the project.
"Let us be clear," the lawmakers added, "this is a priority project to us. Highway 127 was discussed extensively with TDOT and the Administration during the 'Improve Act' negotiations and we shared the concerns that the City of Signal Mountain and many residents had expressed to us regarding the potential failure of this vital transportation route."
Schroer spokeswoman B.J. Doughty did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawmakers' letter.
Veal said the condition of the road has been an issue for the town for quite some time.
"We have communicated with Mr. Watson and Ms. Hazlewood on multiple occasions and met with TDOT," he said. "[We've] done all we can to make sure that it stays on the radar and is addressed as quickly as possible. [State officials] are aware of our concerns."
State officials are looking at a series of improvements to U.S. 127, estimated at $10.2 million in 2012, with work on upgrading drainage ditches, rebuilding sections of the road where stability is of concern and mitigating the chance of rock falls in problem areas.
Watson and Hazlewood said the extensive repairs required for U.S. 127 "have taken on new urgency" after portions of State Route 68 collapsed between Spring City, Tennessee and Grandview in April.
Citing a Times Free Press article detailing how heavy cracks had opened in the road, Watson and Hazlewood said the environmental circumstances "appeared eerily similar to the area of Highway 127 leading up Signal Mountain" and "escalated concern."
While TDOT's regular inspection of the roadway is appreciated, the lawmakers again cited the Times Free Press news account that even as workers were inspecting Highway 68, a section of the roadway broke off and fell.
"[I]nspections do not eliminate the risk of failure," Watson and Hazlewood wrote. "We believe that moving forward with a long-term solution has reached a critical stage. Recent heavy rains with rocks falling onto cars and across the roadway have only served to heighten our uneasiness with this area of the road."
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