Future of a city's only traffic light up in the air - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Future of a city's only traffic light up in the air

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The traffic light at the intersection of Willson Street and Burn Road in Niota, Tennessee, was installed in the early 1980s. It's the first, and to this day the only light in the town of around 750 people. The light is aging and has had recent electrical problems. Also, it works on a timer that is slow in some people's opinions, rather than on a sensor. The city wants to replace the light since the parts needed to fix it are no longer available.

Local restaurant owner Carroll Norris can't avoid the light around 5:30 each morning as he enters town. He thinks there's a better solution than a new light.

"Put a 4-way stop," Norris says emphatically. "You stop. If nobody's there, you go! I have to stop for that light and I'm usually the only car there."

He says even during busy times of day stop signs seem to work fine coming out the other side streets. But this light is along a state-operated road--Willson Street is also Route 11. The city says it can't put a stop sign of its own there.

This makes no sense to Norris.

"In Niota it's Willson Street. My address is 805 Willson Street, not Route 11," explains Norris. He says city crews fix potholes and salt the road when it snows. "The city maintains it," he adds.

But if a stop sign truly isn't an option as city officials state, then they're back to replacing the light. However, it's not owned by the city. The Athens Utility Board actually owns the light and it wants Niota to fork out $20,000 for a new one, along with $2700 a year to maintain it. The city says its budget is too tight to pay up, especially if they'd just be "renting it" in the long run, as one city commissioner puts it.

"It's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard," exclaims Norris. "Because if they own the light, they ought to maintain the light."

Teresa Nichols, another local business owner and mother of young school children, hopes a stop sign doesn't somehow become an option.

"People don't tend to see the stop signs the majority of the time, or they yield at them. They don't stop," Nichols has observed. "I think for the safety of the children they should keep the light. Because the school is on the road that comes onto Highway 11 and the red light is there."

Also, she was a kid herself when the lone light was installed and would like to keep seeing one there, even it's new. It's keeps a sense of history in the town.

"You should get it however you can get it for the purpose of what it does for the community," adds Nichols.

One other option the city is considering is applying for a Tennessee Department of Transportation grant. Discussions continue and the next city commission meeting is March 10.

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