Catoosa County officials hope the promise of a much-needed bridge project on Graysville Road is enough to convince voters to approve a one-percent transportation tax slated for a March 19 referendum.

On Tuesday afternoon, March 12, the Board of Commissioners called a special meeting and followed it up with a press conference laying out its plan to remedy the traffic and safety issues that have existed at the railroad crossing at Graysville Road for decades.

Essentially, Commission Chairman Steven Henry said the project could get done in the next couple of years, but only if the TSPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) passes.

“Without TSPLOST, we don’t have the funding to do this project,” Henry said.

If approved, the tax is expected to bring in approximately $60 million in revenue over the next five-year cycle and is supposed to be used for transportation-related roadwork. The tax would bump the county up to an eight-percent sales tax that would benefit Catoosa County, as well as the cities of Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold.

In December, when the decision was made to put the tax vote on the March 19 ballot, the county's three local governments agreed to a 70/20/10 split of the revenue, which would equate respectively to approximately $42 million for Catoosa County, $12 million for Fort Oglethorpe, and $6 million for Ringgold.

In recent weeks, residents have shown up to public meetings held by all three local governments voicing their opinions on the tax.

Tuesday (March 12), commissioners said the bypass project would cost roughly $12 million and could take possibly three years to construct.

Residents have complained about the issues at the railroad tracks for years due to the railroad crossing creating traffic backups for a route that is usually a go-to roadway from Catoosa County to Chattanooga in lieu of taking I-75. Trains can hold up traffic at the crossing for 15 minutes to more than an hour.

Schools Superintendent Denia Reese and Sheriff Gary Sisk spoke in favor of the project during the press conference. Reese pointed out how often school buses have to cross those tracks while transporting students. Sisk pointed out that traffic delays in that area have been known to hinder his officers when they try to respond to calls.

Some residents are irked because they feel the timing of the proposed project coincides with the pending vote.

“They haven’t said anything about this tax going toward fixing that area, but now they’re selling that to us a week before the vote,” resident Willie Benson said after the press conference. “It just seems a little desperate to me. We all know that’s been a problem area forever. Now they’re using that to try to get the tax approved.”

On Feb. 19, the board hired American Consulting Professionals LLC at a cost of $14,500 to conduct a multi-stage feasibility study on the bridge and railroad to see what could be done.

With the special election slated for Tuesday, March 19, residents can still vote early through Friday, March 15.

Those planning on voting early can do so at the Freedom Center and Westside precincts in Ringgold and Rossville. All residents will have to vote at their assigned precinct on March 19.

Chairman Henry said that if the tax gets approved Tuesday, March 19, the county would jump right back into engineering on the project the day after the vote.

Adam Cook is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He has been a reporter since 2009.

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