Fire chief urges TDOT to fix 'dangerous' curves on South Pittsburg Mtn.
But one emergency responder believes two turns are courting disaster on South Pittsburg Mountain in Marion County, if TDOT doesn't do something fast.
SOUTH PITTSBURG, MARION COUNTY (WRCB)-- Practically speaking, Tennessee Highway 156 is the route up, down and around South Pittsburg Mountain in Marion County.
We've got a lot of retirees, that are moving out of Florida, coming to the mountain and building," South Pittsburg Volunteer Fire Chief Milton VanAllen says. "We get more traffic in one hour than we used to get all day."
"The biggest problem we see with it is the trucks coming up, unfamiliar with the road," 30-year resident Gary Holland says. "You get a 50-60 ton truck up here, it's hard for them to negotiate a curve."
Unless they take both lanes. The so-called Horseshoe Curve, at mile marker 12, has a steep slope.
But that pales compared to the blind curve only yards away.
"Oh, that scares me," Chief VanAllen sighs. "I've about been run off a couple times myself."
The issue is less the speed, than having nowhere to swerve.
"Oh, Lord, have mercy," Chief VanAllen says. "They've had to replace the guardrail at least two or three times a year."
The Tennessee Highway Patrol hasn't gotten back to us to confirm that count, nor the number of wrecks.
"I'm gonna say eight to ten a year," Chief VanAllen says. "The last one, a week before Christmas, tied up this highway for ten hours when a tractor-trailer jack-knifed."
His curve concerns haven't made the wish list that the Southeast Tennessee Development District submits to the Department of Transportation annually.
So, Tuesday, Chief VanAllman wrote to TDOT Commissioner John Schroer directly.
"I am most concerned with the inability of receiving mutual-aid fire, and medical emergency assistance, in the event the roadway is blocked for hours," his letter reads in part.
He hasn't had to wait long for an answer.
"We're initiating a road safety review of this particular location," TDOT Communications Director BJ Doughty says Friday. "They'll look at a number of aspects, they'll also pull the crash data for the area."
The review is set to begin in February and take about six months.
Chief VanAllen maintains that widening the Horseshoe Curve is critical.
Holland is skeptical.
"It's gonna be expensive for TDOT to make changes," he says."Somebody's gonna lose some property."
The audit review is not designed to launch major multi-million dollar construction projects," Doughty says. "What we're basically looking at is launching some improvements."
Such enhancements could include more signage, lower speed limits, or reflective markers to make drivers more aware of the narrow lanes.
But VanAllen doubts that would be enough.
"We've gotta do something," he says. "Before these trucks come through, and somebody can't back up in time. And somebody gets killed."