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Locals don’t want to fight the traffic; businesses suffer

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By PETER SAWYER

Since Interstate 75 closed on May 7, LaFollette has been flooded with bumper-to-bumper traffic. To help move the traffic through town more quickly, certain traffic signals have been set to hazard. Some residents have felt this has made it more difficult to navigate through town.

“A lot of people are mad because the red lights are flashing,” LaFollette Mayor Mike Stanfield said, “We’re trying to get traffic moving through LaFollette as fast as we can.”

“We have a fairly trained population,” Campbell County Chamber of Commerce Director E. L. Morton said, referring to the project on the bridge in front of Campbell County High School. “We’ve seen local folks stay at home when they usually make their purchases.”

This has caused some businesses to suffer losses. Charley’s Pizza has lost about half its usual business.

“It’s killing us,” Charley’s Pizza owner Jerry Partin said. “Got us slowed down. We got about half of what we usually do. Some other restaurants, they ain’t got nobody else either.”

Charley’s has suffered losses because locals haven’t been eating there this past week.

“I don’t blame them though,” Partin said. “It’s hard to get across this when traffic is bumper to bumper.”

The traffic is thickest around 3 p.m., and begins to thin around 6 p.m. This mostly affects daytime business, Partin said.

“Hope we can find some kind of relief for the traffic,” Partin said.

Stanfield feels it will be a while before the traffic situation is resolved.

Pizza Hut has also suffered losses.

“Last week, we lost money instead of gained money,” Pizza Hut Manager Wes Vinsant said. “Last week was a slower week than what we usually have.”

Friday, Pizza Hut made $1,500. This is $500 less than the $2,000 it usually makes on a Friday. Vinsant believes this is because locals don’t want to fight the traffic.

The business these restaurants have lost hasn’t been replaced by people who have been rerouted through LaFollette. People being detoured from the interstate aren’t budgeting additional money for stopping at this portion of their trip, Morton said. They aren’t spending more money than their normal patterns on the interstate.

“They’re eager to get where they are going rather than stop and spend their money with us,” Morton said.

“They will stop in and use the restroom, ask how much farther it is to the interstate, and leave without eating,” Vinsant said.

Partin has seen very few customers from the detoured traffic. Most of them are eating at McDonald’s, he said.

While the gas stations have taken note of the local resident’s reluctance to venture out this past week, they have at least benefited from some out of town business.

“We have noticed our regulars are staying away because they don’t want to fight the traffic,” Woodson’s Shell Station manager Kim Morris said. “With the way they’re cutting the lights, it’s making it hard for our customers to (get back on the road).”

Woodson’s gallon sales and inside sales are up, but this is due to out of town customers, who have mostly bought fountain drinks, snack food, soda and gas. These customers often need to use the bathroom.

“We had to get our port a potties again because they were standing in line,” Morris said.

Many of the people who have been detoured through LaFollette haven’t understood why the interstate has been shut down, Morris said. They have complained to the Shell Station that LaFollette should handle the traffic better, Morris said.

“We’re doing everything humanly possible to get the traffic moving as fast as possible through LaFollette,” Stanfield said. “My main concern is the safety of the people of LaFollette and Campbell County. We’re doing the best we can for a bad situation.”

According to West End BP manager James Allen, most of the travelers ask the same three questions: How much further to the interstate? Where are the bathrooms? Are there any good places to eat?

Despite the crazy traffic patterns, overall sales are about normal, Morton said

“You would think with the influx of traffic it would grow,” Morton said.