Updated at 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, with a sketch of the project.
RINGGOLD, Ga. — With a week left to vote on a new sales tax, the Catoosa County Commission tried to sweeten the deal with a guarantee.
If the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax passes March 19, the commissioners said during a special called meeting Tuesday, they will build a bridge over the railroad tracks in the Graysville community. According to a feasibility study, the project will cost about $12 million.
Commission Chairman Steven Henry said they will build the bridge only if voters approve the 1 percent tax next week. Early voting runs through Friday. On March 19, polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
"It all boils down to the dollar," Henry said. "Without T-SPLOST, we don't have the funding to do this project. If the T-SPLOST passes, we're going to move forward the very next day with our engineers and get them started. If it doesn't pass, we're not going to do that because we don't have the revenue."
The crossing is at a location where the railroad has a siding, a second track that runs next to the primary track. When two trains approach from opposite directions, or when a train runs slower than another one behind it, one of the trains will pull off onto the siding and the engineer will wait until the other train passes. This causes drivers to sit by the crossing for anywhere from 20 minutes to longer than an hour.
The commissioners voted unanimously to commit to the project, on the condition that T-SPLOST passes. After the vote, county officials held a news conference to endorse the proposed sales tax. Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese said the crossing can delay school buses.
Sheriff Gary Sisk argued the delays compromise public safety. When deputies respond to an emergency in the community but can't cross the tracks, they drive north to Interstate 75, travel to the East Brainerd exit and drive south. Or they drive south, cross U.S. Highway 41 and travel north up Ooltewah-Ringgold Road. Or they wait.
Sisk added that outside agencies located on the other side of the tracks are allowed to come into the jurisdiction, which helps mitigate the problem. He said the department does not keep statistics on how often the delays occur.
The T-SPLOST would be the local government's third 1 percent sales tax fund approved by voters. Counting state sales tax and a 1 percent sales tax for the school district, the overall sales tax rate in the county would be 8 percent.
Catoosa County priority list
Catoosa County is expected to receive $42 million over five years as part of the T-SPLOST. In addition to the Graysville bridge, these are the county’s priorities:
› Rolling Hills road rehab
› The Meadows road rehab
› Heritage Estates road rehab
› Hickory Hills road rehab
› Mountain Brook road rehab
› Plemons Estates road rehab
› Dug Road rehab
Opponents argue the local government should prioritize its current funding better. The county is operating on a $27 million general fund budget, with about $2.4 million set aside for roads and bridges. It also approved a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax last year, generating a projected $42 million for the county over five years, with about $11.4 million budgeted for roads and bridges.
District 3 Commissioner Jim Cutler, who represents the Graysville community in the north end of the county, said residents have complained about the crossing since he took office in 2009. But he conceded that a solution to the problem was not among the top priorities when the commissioners budgeted for the other sales tax fund before last year's vote.
"We had other issues throughout the county we needed to look at," Cutler said.
Said Joanna Hildreth, an opponent of the T-SPLOST: "If this is such an important thing, why did they not even mention it for the last SPLOST? I didn't hear one word of this from the commissioners. I spoke to all of them. I went to a town hall meeting [this year]. I talked to the county manager. And none of them said, 'We are so hoping that this Graysville crossing will get repaired. This is our big push with this tax.'"
"It's almost as if they're using the Graysville Road intersection to force people to vote yes," said Sarah Wade, another opponent. "I think it's disingenuous."
After approval at the Feb. 19 meeting, commissioners paid American Consulting Professionals $48,000 to study three potential bridge projects at the Graysville railroad crossing. The commissioners chose the second-cheapest option, about $600,000 more than another project that is estimated to cost $11.4 million.
The cheaper option calls for the county to run the bridge slightly south of where Graysville Road now sits, while the option the county chose calls for the bridge to be built farther to the north. The feasibility study projects that both options will require the county to tear down an older bridge that now runs over South Chickamauga Creek. The pylons supporting both bridges would be too close together. Because branches, stumps and other debris get caught on the pylons after storms, the engineers worried that water flow would be stopped up at that area.
But Henry said an engineer has looked at the option the county chose and told him there is no need to destroy the original bridge. The two sites are far enough apart. That would save $700,000, lowering the total price tag to $11.3 million.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.
Fort Oglethorpe is projected to get $12 million over five years. This is the city’s priority list:
› Mack Smith Road and Steele Road roundabout
› Dietz Road “traffic solution”
› Alamar Street drainage improvement
› Barrett Drive drainage improvements
› Stovall Street drainage improvements
› Another $1 million in unnamed stormwater solutions
› Mack Smith Road paving project
› Fant Drive paving project
› Thomas Drive paving project
› Stovall Street paving project
› Edgewood subdivision paving project
› $1.6 million in unnamed resurfacing projects
Ringgold priority list
The city of Ringgold is projected to get $6 million through T-SPLOST. These are the city’s stated priorities:
› Tennessee Street resurfacing
› Robin Road resurfacing
› South Sparks Street resurfacing
› Emberson Drive resurfacing
› Candy Lane resurfacing.
› Cotter Street resurfacing.
› Clearview Drive resurfacing.
› Forest Drive resurfacing.
› Hunter Lane resurfacing.
› Gladstone Drive resurfacing.
› Willowind Lane resurfacing.
› Creekview Drive resurfacing.
› Canyon Cove resurfacing.
› Lodgestone Drive resurfacing.
› Lamar Street and Tiger Trail stormwater project.
› Meadowlane stormwater project.
› Boynton Drive sidewalk project.
› Meadow Lane sidewalk project.