ELIZABETHTON — Two buses from the Carter County School System are taking different routes and avoiding Smalling Bridge after the Highway Committee of the Carter County Commission heard warnings from the regional bridge inspector for the Tennessee Department of Transportation on Monday. The bridge crosses the Watauga River and serves the western end of the county.
Adam Wallend, the department’s bridge inspector for Carter, Washington, Unicoi, Sullivan and Johnson counties, said the 71-year-old Smalling Bridge is rated for 9 tons. That means a 66-passenger school bus exceeds the rating. Committee member Charles Von Cannon said one bus carries 22 children across the bridge twice a day, while the other bus carries 15 students across the bridge twice a day.
Beecher O’Quinn, a citizen, said more buses would carry many more students across the bridge next year if the school system carries out its proposed plan to close Range School.
Sheriff Chris Mathes attended Monday’s meeting and delivered the committee’s decision to Director of Schools Kevin Ward.
Ward took immediate action. He told the Carter County School Board during a workshop session Monday afternoon that Transportation Supervisor Jerry Nave was reorganizing the routes to avoid Smalling Bridge.
For a long-term solution, Ward said the school system would purchase some smaller buses that only weigh 5 tons empty and 7.5 tons when loaded to meet the bridge’s rating.