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Ten minute wait at rail crossing keeps overpass project on TDOT’s radar

After decades of waiting, Erwin motorists will finally have a bypass roadway spanning from Main Avenue to Second Street, which will eliminate long waits caused by trains crossing the roadway.
“It’s definitely a go,” Erwin Vice Mayor Glenn Tilson said last week. “It’s funded. This project will go.”
Tilson indicated that the overpass could be ready for motorists by the fall of 2013.
The announcement came on Day 1 of a four-day tour of Region 1 by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
TDOT Commissioner John Schroer, along with elected officials and state transportation representatives, embarked on the statewide “Projects Tour” to see first-hand how the department’s investments are helping communities across Tennessee.
Schroer got his first taste of the importance of an overpass when the group’s tour bus was stuck waiting for a train to clear the Second Street crossing for more than 10 minutes.
“We understand how important having a bypass over the train tracks will be to this town,” Schroer said. “It’s really great for tourism, and it’s also important for safety.”
Erwin City Recorder Randy Trivette said the commissioner’s experience served as a valuable reminder.
“He’s actually paying a lot closer attention to it now that he’s been caught by the train himself,” Erwin City Recorder Randy Trivette said.
Trivette echoed Schroer’s remarks about the bypass enhancing tourism in Erwin’s downtown district by stating that the overpass will help supplement the town’s new Master Plan, which draws from the location of Interstate 26.
“Second Street acts as the gateway to our downtown,” Trivette said. “We want to encourage tourists to stop by downtown, to look around, shop and spend money. We also want it to be a benefit to our existing residents and citizens. That’s what this project will do, I believe.”
Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, was also present last week to visit with citizens and officials concerning the bypass.
Southerland, who serves as vice chairman of the state’s Transportation Committee, said he has been working to help Erwin get the bypass since his election to the state senate in 2002.
“We have finally come up with a solution to this problem,” Southerland said. “Last year, we had the funding to begin the right-of-way process, and we are in the process of purchasing (rights-of-way) now.”
Southerland said rights-of-way should be purchased by next summer, which would allow construction on the overpass to begin as early as September 2012.
“This is absolutely going to happen, 100-percent guaranteed by TDOT to me,” Trivette said, when asked to address citizen concerns that the project might fall through. “They’ve assured me that it is a done deal, and it is going to happen.”
TDOT began appraising properties affected by the new overpass project in early August of this year.
The overpass project, which will cost an estimated $9 million, was included in TDOT’s Transportation Improvement Program in 2008. The program includes hundreds of other projects that were intended to be completed sometime between the 2007 and 2011 fiscal years.
More information about the overpass project, as well as others throughout the state, can be found at www.tn.gov/tdot/tour.
A copy of the overpass project’s blueprints can be seen in the Unicoi County Register of Deeds’ office.