The Sligo bridge issue was a topic of discussion Tuesday during a State Senate Transportation Committee meeting in Nashville.
Gerald Nicely, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation and Paul Degges, TDOT Chief Engineer, updated the committee on projects funded under the federal stimulus program.
(To view video click the following link and then click "presentation-stimulus update from TDOT")
State Senator Mae Beavers, a member of the committee, asked why the Sligo bridge was not among the projects funded. Degges, explained that the project was not "shovel" ready at the time, because issues regarding right of way had not and still have not been resolved. "We ultimately did not have the right of way in hand, in fact we don't have the right of way or the environmental issues quite worked out. The Corps of Engineers has a concession with a marina operator underneath the bridge. To build this bridge, we'll take the parking lot. There's also acid producing rock in the earth and when we build this we'll need a handling plan for that material. That stuff is still in progress and is close to being finalized. So that project was not shovel ready because we didn't have everything ready."
Senator Beavers then asked why constituents, when calling TDOT about Sligo bridge, were being told by a TDOT employee that the reason their bridge wasn't being funded was because she (Senator Beavers) and State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver did not vote for the bridge bonding bill.
Degges said he confronted the employee who denied making those statements to anyone."Senator none of my staff has said that. I have heard an allegation to that affect. The commissioner and I have personally talked to an employee who denies that he said that."
Commissioner Nicely added " When that report came in both Mr. Degges and I talked to the employee and he denied it so all I can do is say that he is a pretty trust worthy individual so maybe he was misunderstood. I will point out that other bridges in DeKalb County have been funded, if the argument is going to be made it's political. Finally, the Governor has probably got more complaints about me not being political enough than he has of me being too political since I've been commissioner."
Degges told Senator Beavers that there were over twenty projects "that were in our initial assessment as potentially eligible or ready for the program that ultimately did not get funded either through the stimulus funds or through our regular work program so those projects (Sligo and Cordell Hull) have a lot of company. They were not ready."
During a meeting last Friday night in Smithville, Degges talked with WJLE about the status of Sligo bridge. "We're under development on the Sligo bridge. Hopefully, we'll be finishing up our right of way acquisition with the Corps of Engineers. There is a concessionaire under the bridge with the marina and we've been working real hard with the Corps of Engineers trying to find ways to reduce impacts on that business so that is complicating our right of way acquisition problem."
Degges says TDOT originally considered a rehabilitation of Sligo bridge, but the public outcry here was for a total replacement, which is much more expensive. "That's around a $30 million project. We had looked at doing about a five or six million dollar rehabilitation but working with the community it was very vocally told to us that everybody wants a new bridge there. So we are not working on rehab plans, we are working toward a set of replacement plans on that bridge."
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander recently helped secure $1.5 million in federal funding for right of way acquisition and for making emergency repairs to the existing bridge and is now planning to ask for funding to replace Sligo bridge as a priority project in the federal highway re-authorization appropriation later this year.
Degges said Friday night that Sligo bridge remains safe under the posted weight limits and he explained for WJLE why chunks of concrete are falling from the bridge into nets underneath the bridge. "On the Sligo bridge, a number of years ago when the bridge deck was going bad, rather than shutting the bridge down and jack hammering the deck out and putting a new deck in, we came in there real fast and poured a whole new bridge deck on top of the old bridge deck. So the new bridge deck is a structurally reinforced deck to carry the traffic. The old deck underneath it, we didn't fix it before we put the new deck on it, and we didn't need to. It is starting to flake and crumble and have pieces fall out. It's not a structural issue with the bridge, but we put the nets up under there because we were concerned about people who might be underneath the bridge, we might have a piece of concrete fall. So that's what the netting is for. We realize that it doesn't look very good up under there but we felt it was important that we put that there to provide safety for people to be under the bridge. But again, from a structural standpoint on the bridge, the new re-enforced concrete deck on top of the old one is a perfectly good deck and it will hold the traffic on it."