County road projects under way

Stephanie Myers-News-Herald

The Loudon County Highway Department has many projects coming down the pike. On the flip side, there are numerous obstacles that chip away at the budget and what the department would like to do, Road Superintendent Eddie Simpson said.

Motorists will begin seeing road improvements, repaved roadways and added traffic signals during the course of the next couple of years. Simpson said heíd like to get more projects under way, but weather has been a damper on plans this year. From costs associated with mowing due to added rainfall to cleaning up downed trees and repairing washed out roadways, the highway department is strapped financially with a $3 million budget, Simpson said, and unexpected weather patterns.

"If we have a disaster it kills our budget for a year," Simpson said.

Simpson said the highway department repaved nine miles of roadway this past fiscal year, including Hotchkiss Valley, Grubb and Poplar Springs roads, and will repave about nine more miles this fiscal year. Vonore, Hickory Creek and Happy Hollow roads are included on this yearís plans.

Of 700 miles of roads in Loudon County, 550 miles are maintained by the county highway department, Simpson said. Simpson said he wishes he could pave more roads each year. Noting budget constraints and inflation, Simpson said it costs about $90,000 to pave one mile in Loudon County.

"With the budget that we have in place thereís not enough money to do the amount that we need to do because paving will last about 20 years. If we have 550 miles then that means weíre going to have to pave about 20 miles a year for 20 years to catch up. We donít have the monies to do that," Simpson said.

With those limits, Simpson estimated 80 percent of county roads are "due for paving."

"That takes a big hunk out of that budget. That near 10 miles that we did last year we spent near $1 million doing those," Simpson added.

Simpson said the department mows seven times each year, costing $400,000-$500,000 in mowing alone.

"Thatís just a budgeted item that we know we have to do, and we pride ourself in trying to make sure that we keep the roads as clear as we can," he said. "We've had a very difficult time this year with all the rain. It's made the grass grow on the right-of-ways just like it has in everybody's lawn. Therefore, we've had to really stay on top of it, but we've done OK. Then again, we concentrate on the intersections and stuff like that and try not to let the grass get high enough that it is blocking any view from the intersections to promote the safety of it.

Highway department general foreman Billy Pickel pointed out a hard winter also plays a negative role on the budget.

"If you have to put a lot of salt down it really deteriorates the road," Pickel said. "We have in the budget maybe one or two of them little headaches like that pop up. We had two or three expensive unforeseen emergencies come about last year. That was probably $100,000 that we could have spent doing something else."

Simpson said the highway department has about $700,000 in reserve funds.

Motorists will begin seeing road improvements across the county starting this week. Buttermilk and Beals Chapel roads in Lenoir City, Steekee and Sunnyside roads in Loudon and East Coast Tellico Parkway in Greenback will see safety improvements such as road restriping, guardrail repair and added road reflectors and reflective signage. Simpson said the improvements, funded by a $250,000 grant from a state safety program, must be completed by 2018.

"I'd say December 31 of 2017 we will have just probably finished everything. There are a lot of signs," Pickel said.

Simpson said the roads were chosen based on statistics on incapacitating injuries or fatalities.

"That's where most of the wrecks were in Loudon County was on those five roads," Simpson said. "... We've had some fatalities at about all these roads, somewhere or another on these roads." Simpson said the three roads that will be repaved this year, Vonore, Hickory Creek and Happy Hollow roads, are in much need of repair.

"Happy Hollow has probably never been paved since it was originally paved, which is probably 30 years," he said. "It's that old, and itís got a lot of pot holes. Itís got a lot of narrow spots that just narrows and widens back out." Simpson said Vonore Road has had the same treatment over the past 30 years.

Other future projects include repaving Morganton Road in Greenback and road widening on Simpson Road from Burger King on Highway 321 to Shaw Ferry Road.

The county will soon see a traffic light and reconstructed intersections of Sugarlimb Road and Highway 11, Muddy Creek and Ford roads and highways 95 and 411 in Greenback.