The city of Charleston is having problems with its roads. Worth Street has been closed due to a washed-out area around a culvert.
The Charleston City Commission approved a motion this week to spend more than $5,000 to repair the area with filler concrete.
Although the closure of Worth Street has been a problem and disrupted the flow of city traffic, city officials and Police Chief John “Hank” Haden are more concerned about potential difficulties ahead for the city’s roadways.
They are blaming the anticipated problems on heavily-loaded logging trucks that travel through the small municipality to the nearby Resolute Forest Service (formerly AbitibiBowater) paper mill.
Haden, Mayor Walter Goode and commissioners Larry Anderson and Donna McDermott continue to express concerns about the truck traffic.
Some Charleston officials want log haulers to travel along Interstate 75 to the Calhoun exit when hauling their logs. This route would bring the heavy loads from the interstate to State Highway 11, just north of the Resolute mill.
This would eliminate much of the truck traffic through Charleston and traffic risks in front of schools.
Some trucks are taking the Lauderdale Memorial Highway exit from I-75, which brings the heavy vehicles in front of Walker Valley High School and then onto Highway 11 and in front of Charleston Elementary School in the central area of Charleston.
Haden said the trucks not only cause damage to the main roadway, they also are a safety risk. He estimated that 50 to 60 trucks pass through the city each day.
“I’ve worked two traffic accidents (with deaths), involving trucks on Highway 11,” said Haden. “A woman and a little girl were killed.”
Charleston School Principal Jodie Grannam said Thursday there are some concerns among the town’s residents. She said some parents have asked about the trucks and potential traffic risks to their children, especially when school is starting up in the mornings and letting out in the afternoon.
There were 10 logging trucks that passed the school during a one-hour period Thursday, between 2 and 3 p.m.
One of the inconsistencies is the weight limits for logging trucks. Trucks on Interstate 75 can carry only 80,000 pounds, while state roads allow 88,000 pounds.
According to reports previously released by the Tennessee Highway Patrol, logging trucks weighed by authorities on the interstate are fined at the rate of 90 percent for heavy loads. Only 10 percent of trucks on state roads are penalized.
The THP said it believes many truck drivers notify colleagues when authorities are weighing on the interstate, and other drivers will change routes to state roads (for the extra 8,000 pounds allowed).
There have been some changes recently on road requirements which have helped the downtown Charleston area.
Logging trucks previously came into Charleston from the U.S. 411 area in Polk County via Upper River Road. Requirements on this road were changed to eliminate this traffic, although the trucks can return on that route (unloaded).
The city of Cleveland faced a similar situation in recent years with logging truck traffic along North Ocoee, which is also Highway 11. The city received support from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to eliminate truck traffic on North Ocoee, forcing trucks to travel west to Keith Street and north to Charleston.
This is one of the reasons logging trucks exit Cleveland along North Lee Highway (Highway 11) passing Bradley Square Mall, North Lee Elementary School and on to Charleston.
Tennessee Rep. Eric Watson said Thursday no one from Charleston has contacted him about these traffic concerns. TDOT also responded to a Watson inquiry that they also did not know of the concerns.
It has been recommended to Charleston officials they invite Watson to a future commission meeting to discuss problems and the anticipation of future problems.
Goode emphasized this week the road concerns are all about the Charleston community, and how it impacts the residents.
Goode has been invited to a 5 p.m. meeting at Cleveland Middle School next Thursday, which will feature TDOT Commissioner John Schroe. He plans to talk with the commissioner and Watson about Charleston’s road and truck concerns.