Jim Town Road is a pleasant drive through the natural beauty of Hawkins County.
The first part of the road, where it leaves Highway 11W, is a bit of a farming community, including a big ramshackle barn and an old log house. Then the road goes over a rise, and suddenly, unexpectedly, the entire vista of Cherokee Lake opens up far below the road.
Picturesque lake houses are sprinkled along the shore, with two more just beginning construction. Squirrels and red foxes scamper across the road. At dawn and dusk, one imagines, deer would make their way down to the water. On this dead-end road, your only driving companion may be the mail carrier behind you.
It’s not such a pleasant drive, though, if you’re worried about meeting a gravel truck. The road features numerous blind curves and hill crests, and in many places the scant two lanes of traffic are skirted by deep ditches, steep mountainsides or a 75-foot drop straight down to the lake. There are no guardrails or shoulders on the road.
Now Dustin Long has bought the quarry at the end of this road and predicts he will be sending out 200 trucks a day. Jim Town Road is already showing the scars of this traffic.
Dips, deep gouges and permanent tire tracks on the asphalt are appearing, and residents are concerned this is only the beginning of the problems.
Residents on the road presented letters and photographs protesting the activity.
Hawkins County Commission Chair Rick Brewer is among many commissioners who believe something must be done to protect the road immediately. Remarking on the steep section mentioned above, Brewer said if the weight of truck traffic ended up pushing the pavement off the cliff, “It’d cost millions to repair it. And we don’t have that kind of money.”
Brewer recommended imposing an immediate, and temporary, weight limit of 10 tons on the road and post a speed limit of 15 miles per hour for commercial vehicles. County Technical Advisory Services advised the county to pay for an engineering study before any permanent solutions are enacted.
“If you don’t do something tonight that road will be torn all to pieces before we can meet again,” Brewer warned commissioners.
The commission discussed amending the motion to restrict traffic to single-axle trucks in order to make it easier for sheriff’s deputies to identify overweight vehicles, but that amendment was withdrawn, as was another one exempting trucks involved in residential construction. At least two houses are already under construction on the road.
The weight limit restriction passed 19-2 with two absences.