Cedar Avenue is seen on Thursday, July 17, 2014, in South Pittsburg, Tenn.

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — City leaders are looking to recruit new businesses to the town, but to do that, they'll need to open access to several locations along U.S. Highway 72.

At the South Pittsburg Commission's February meeting, Mayor Virgil Holder said a Tennessee Department of Transportation planning grant could help them study the problem.

The areas to be studied include Sweetens Cove Road to the State Highway 156 split along U.S. Highway 72, Cedar Avenue in the downtown South Pittsburg area, and U.S. Highway 72 from the split to the Alabama state line.

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Virgil Holder

The grant for the studies would not exceed $125,000, Holder said.

South Pittsburg would be responsible for 10 percent of matching funds for the grant, or a maximum of $12,500.

"They [TDOT] may approve phase one, two or three, or all three," Holder said.

If only phase one were selected by TDOT, for example, the grant funding and matching funds would be adjusted to that price level.

Commissioner Jimmy Haley asked City Administrator Gene Vess if the town could afford those potential matching funds.

"Yes," Vess replied. "We have to have this in order to move forward. We cannot afford not to do this one. Highway 72 has got so many areas that's blocked off and closed. What this will do is come in and give us a better opportunity with TDOT to open up access to those areas."

The board voted unanimously to move forward with the grant process.

Holder said Cedar Avenue, which has been a point of frustration for many residents since a "streetscape" project in the 1990s, is a particular focus for what needs to be done to make the road "more safe and more friendly to traffic flow."

He said TDOT officials were "very familiar" with Cedar Avenue.

"As a matter of fact, they're the ones that suggested to include it in the project," Holder said. "This study will also assist us in our retail academy recruitment. It will show some of the things we need to do [to recruit more businesses] that we can go back to TDOT and correct."

The study might show also the need for a traffic light at the intersection of Sweetens Cove Road and U.S. Highway 72, he said.

"It needs it," Haley said. "It needs it."

Holder said TDOT was "not too positive" about placing a traffic light there, but "this study may help us."

"If we get development moved in [at that intersection], the traffic will be quite a bit," he said.

"We're not going to be able to bring in any retail business along [Highway] 72 until we get open that access," Vess said.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at