Drivers will have to steer clear of a major route through Cocke County beginning Tuesday. TDOT is shutting down the Wolf Creek Bridge on Route-9 for a couple of years to repair structural problems to the historic bridge that crosses the French Broad River.
The closure shuts down the main route between Newport and Hot Springs, North Carolina. Large truck traffic can take US 321 from Newport to Greeneville, then continue on Route 70 into North Carolina. All other vehicles take 107 north into Greene County and then jump on 70 to get to Hot Springs.
The closure could have a big impact on the economies of Hot Springs and Cocke County. The North Carolina town depends heavily on Tennesseans for tourism.
Several Cocke County businesses cater to a large amount of customers in North Carolina. One of those is the Wilson Livestock Market. Closing the Wolf Creek Bridge is expected to take a bite out of business from across the state line.
"It's going to be a big inconvenience for our customers on the other side of the bridge to get here. We're expecting a drop of around seven to eight percent annually, which is about a $20,000 loss of income per year," said Lemmy Wilson, owner of Wilson Livestock Market. "It's a real imposition on our community and our income in this area. We have to live with it, I guess."
Wilson and the market's manager, Randy Hodge, plan to possibly set up drop-off points in Hot Springs so customers don't have to take a 90 mile detour that goes directly past two competitors.
"The drop-offs will be more expensive for us, but one thing we know is people are creatures of habit. We don't want them to get in the habit of not doing business with us," said Hodge. "Once you begin to do business somewhere else for a two to three year period, it is really hard to bring those people back to Cocke County. Not only will this loss be for two to three years, but maybe for a lifetime. They don't just automatically come back when the bridge is repaired."
North Carolina shoppers cross into Tennessee for everything from groceries to hardware in Newport. The Wolf Creek Bridge closure is one of several road construction projects that could hinder traffic.
"It's a matter of growing pains. We have a lot of road projects going on with the Wolf Creek Bridge, the I-40 overpass at Exit 435, and the bridge across Douglas Lake," said Cocke County Partnership President Donald Hurst. "But we've got overall growth in the county, so that will the construction will not make as much of a noticeable impact. It's going to be more of an inconvenience than a true economic loss."