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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Then-District 26 Republican candidate Robin Smith speaks during a meet and greet hosted by the League of Women Voters in the Chattanooga Rooms at the University Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Sept. 24, 2018, in Chattanooga.

Unhappy about getting stuck in traffic recently because a train has stopped on a Hixson railroad crossing or elsewhere?

Tennessee state Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, says you might consider coming to a public meeting she's hosting Tuesday with local and state officials, including Tennessee Department of Transportation officials. Invitations also have been extended to railroad industry officials.

The meeting's purpose is to discuss and look for answers to what the Hixson Republican calls the growing problem of drivers on "taxpayer-funded roads" who are left idling for 30 minutes and sometimes hours because of trains stopping on crossings.

The meeting is from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Awaken Center at Abba's House, located at 5208 Hixson Pike.

Smith said she's hoping it will provide a "first step" in finding both short-term and long-term solutions "rather than just talking about this problem."

"In my district alone, there are five railroad crossings that over time have become more and more used," Smith said in an interview, adding, "understandably so, because of our wonderful economy and Amazon and Volkswagen and any number of manufacturers that are increasing their use of rail for transport."

Ironically, Smith noted, the "blessing of prosperity has turned into a little bit of a community issue in that we need our wonderful railroads to be engaged and helping us to navigate how better to communicate — with [emergency management services] particularly."

The impacts of long waits on emergency services are a special concern for Smith, who formerly worked as a registered nurse. She noted the Hamill Road railway crossing is about 1,200 feet from North Park Memorial Hospital.

The lawmaker said she has videos showing ambulances having to turn around "because the [guard] arms are coming down" at the crossing. "At this moment there's no mechanism in place for EMS — even in a closed circuit-type format — to know when the crossings are blocked, when they're open."

Recalling her own recent morning experience on Thrasher Pike when a train was blocking the road, Smith said she found a driver in an 18-wheeler who had been stuck for just over two hours.

Smith cited a 2008 study by the Tennessee Department of Transportation that showed the daily train traffic average at Hamill Road was 33 trains back then. Eleven years later "it's more than doubled," the lawmaker noted. "Now, it's up to 75. And now, they [the trains] are longer."

She described a recent case on Thrasher Pike where a train was stopped so long that traffic backed up from Thrasher Pike on the west side down to Highway 27. "And Soddy-Daisy police were out there having to direct traffic."

It's a problem elsewhere in other parts of Hamilton County and the state, too, Smith said.

According to Smith, confirmed attendees include Paul Degges, deputy commissioner and chief engineer with TDOT; TDOT's legislative director Brian Carroll; and Dan Pallme, assistant chief of TDOT's Environmental and Planning Bureau/Freight and Logistics.

Other confirmed attendees include state Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson; House Transportation Committee Chairman Dan Howell, R-Georgetown; state House Finance Vice Chairwoman Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, and Rep. Esther Helton, R-East Ridge.

Tim Andrews, the Hamilton County Rail Authority's executive director; Eddie Tate, senior engineer with Chattanooga's Department of Transportation; and Kevin Comstock, director of Chattanooga's Smart Cities Initiative, also have confirmed they will attend, according to Smith.

She said she has invited officials from CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway and the Tennessee Railroad Association and hopes they will attend.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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