Law enforcement launches new I-26 safety initiative

Published 2:29 pm Friday, January 26, 2024

BY ROBERT SORRELL
Star Correspondent
Local law enforcement agencies in Johnson City, Tennessee, and surrounding jurisdictions have launched an initiative to make Interstate 26 a safer route for drivers.
Since 2022, nearly 800 crashes have been reported in Johnson City along Interstate 26, according to Johnson City Police Chief Billy Church.
“Sadly, nine people have lost their lives,” said Church, who led a press conference on Friday about the new “A Safer 26 in 24” initiative.
Surrounded by several Johnson City officials, as well as officials from the Carter County Sheriff’s Office, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, Unicoi County Sheriff’s Office, Erwin Police Department, Kingsport Police Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Church spoke about issues on the busy interstate.
“The community wants and deserves a safer I-26 and that’s what we’re working to provide,” Church said.
An estimated 70,000 vehicles travel on the interstate through Johnson City each day.
“We are launching this multi-jurisdictional campaign to raise awareness, educate drivers and ultimately to save lives,” Church said.
The main causes of crashes on the interstate include following too closely, speeding and impaired driving.
“More law enforcement teams will be present on I-26,” Church said.
The goal is to not write more citations, but to “ensure the well-being of our citizens and to save lives,” he said.
During a four-hour period on Friday morning, Church said 30 traffic stops were conducted on 26. One person was traveling 97 miles per hour in a 60 mph zone, and others were traveling at 96 and 86 mph, he said.
“It’s really working already,” Church said.
An approximately 2.7 mile section of the interstate passes through Carter County near the Okolona area.
“Our agency is willing to work with any and all agencies to not only reduce crime, but also hope to reduce the number of traffic crashes,” said Carter County Sheriff Mike Fraley, who wasn’t able to attend the press conference. “That being said, a small portion of I-26 does run through Carter County, and part of that is incorporated into Johnson City, and I applaud Chief Church and the Johnson City Police Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol to take measures to hopefully reduce the number of crashes not only in our County, but also the region.”
Fraley said he believes working together helps everyone.
Sgt. Matt Blankenship with the THP said the initiative will involve proactive enforcement efforts. In addition, drivers will likely also see new message boards and signs intended to slow drivers down.
Police recommend drivers monitor their speed, be patient and eliminate distracted driving, particularly no texting while driving.
Blankenship said drivers must also observe the state’s move over law, which requires drivers to move over into the adjacent line when approaching emergency vehicles with flashing lights.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation and Tennessee Highway Safety Office are assisting with the initiative.
Tennessee State Rep. Tim Hicks said substantial growth in the region over the last five years has led to an increase in traffic issues on I-26. Hicks thanked law enforcement for their efforts to decrease the number of crashes on the interstate.

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