As winter weather sets in, officials in Loudon County are questioning the decision by the Tennessee Valley Authority not to repair the lights on the Fort Loudoun Dam bridge.
State Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, said he's called just about everyone he knows trying to get the lights fixed.
"It's sad that someone might have to lose a life to get TVA to act," he said.
The lights went out following a short-circuit in June and were deliberately disconnected in November. TVA said it has no plans to repair the lights because a new bridge, now under construction, will be completed in June 2016.
According to TVA, repairing the lights would require shutdown of one lane, which could cause a disruption in traffic. "It was not deemed safe, not to mention convenience," said TVA spokesman Jim Hopson.
Matlock said he first complained about the lack of lighting in July. "I'm concerned there is going to be a calamity on that bridge," he said.
Matlock said he crosses the bridge just about every day. He said the history of black ice and fog on the bridge is well known. "One question TVA might ask itself is why the lights were put on the bridge in the first place 60 years ago," Matlock said. "They can shut down the bridge and spend $7 million on sand baskets to protect us against a flood that hasn't happened since Noah, but they can't seem to understand this safety issue."
Hopson said no state law requires lights on bridges. He said drivers crossing the bridge should pay close attention to their lanes and speeds.
Loudon County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy and Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens said the bridge has a long history of accidents caused by such winter conditions as black ice. He said as far as he's concerned the safety of the public is more important than the rate of traffic. He said portable signal equipment has worked effectively in the past to help regulate traffic during construction projects.
Loudon County Road Supervisor Eddie Simpson recommended putting reflectors on the road to help define the lanes during conditions of poor visibility. TVA has considered reflectors, Hopson said, but the reflectors get knocked down almost as fast as they can be installed. Embedding the reflectors in the road would require disrupting traffic, as would repainting the lines on the bridge.