(WBIR - Sevier County) Millions of people visit Sevier County every year for the wide range of tourist attractions and a breath of fresh mountain air in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Yet, the miles of stop-and-go traffic contributes to air pollution.
Now the Tennessee Department of Transportation has awarded more than $700,000 in clean air grants to cities in Sevier County, a construction company, and the county's utility district.
Pigeon Forge and Sevierville are teaming up to use their $445,000 share of the grants to develop a new flexible traffic light system to reduce congestion on Highway 66 and US 441.
"So instead of sitting in traffic and traffic lights unnecessarily, because the traffic plan may not be the most efficient at that time, now the system will be able to adjust," said Bob Stahlke, spokesperson for the City of Sevierville. "The other big key to this is it coordinates traffic in Sevierville and Pigeon Forge together. So traffic will be able to flow better on the entire corridor from the 407 exit at Interstate 40 through Pigeon Forge."
Gatlinburg will use $188,000 in grant money to ditch one of its diesel trolleys and replace it with one that operates on compressed natural gas (CNG). The Sevier County Utility District and construction company Blalock and Sons will also receive more than $100,000 to replace several of its diesel vehicles with ones that run on CNG.
Stahlke says the new traffic light system will require new hardware, software, and the development of several traffic plans that the automated system can choose between depending on the current traffic situations. He does not know when the project will be complete, but said the city is ready to get things moving and begin work right away.
"There will be less cars sitting still and burning gasoline which is going to add to air pollution. Probably more importantly to most people, they're going to be able to move more efficiently throughout that entire corridor."