After months of delay, the new Sligo bridge is expected to be under construction by this summer.
During a meeting with County Mayor Mike Foster and the county commission Thursday night, Paul Degges, Chief Engineer of the Tennessee Department of Transportation said bids will likely be opened in April or May with construction to begin soon after.
(PLAY VIDEO BELOW OF TDOT CHIEF ENGINEER PAUL DEGGES)
Before TDOT could begin with the project, it had to work out a deal on right of way acquisition with the only landowner in the area, being the federal government, through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The problem was that owners of Sligo Marina, who have a lease with the Corps were concerned that the bridge construction would adversely affect their business. The marina owners wanted the state to pay for potential loss of business to them during the construction of the bridge. But Degges, in previous forums, had said that the state cannot legally pay for those types of damages. Over time, TDOT re-designed plans for the bridge hoping to address concerns to the satisfaction of Sligo Marina, but to no avail. So, the state came up with another alternative. To build the bridge from the river. Barges will be assembled on the river for the cranes and other equipment needed in construction. "Our original design had some pretty significant impacts to the parking lot of the marina," said Degges. " In working with the Corps of Engineers and the marina, we tried to come up with a design that we felt was a good design that worked for us and worked for the marina. The marina (owners) ultimately were not satisfied with our design so we went back again and tried to re-design the project to come up with a different type of design that would work. Ultimately, we never really could satisfy the marina so we backed up and looked at it again. We brought in a lot of contractors and did a constructability review so now we have come up with a way to build the bridge from the water and from the roadway so we're not going to have to be off our reservation so to speak with the bridge," said Degges.
The project will be more costly to build the bridge from the river, according to Degges but the marina will not be impacted in this manner. The project will let for bids this spring and be under construction by summer and should be finished within twenty four to thirty months. "For the most part we're going to be building the bridge from the river. It is going to run our costs up but we believe we have the resources available to deliver it," said Degges. "We're still finalizing our real estate agreement with the Corps of Engineers that allows us to get all of our permits but we anticipate being able to open bids probably in the April to May time frame and be under construction this summer. It will probably be twenty four to thirty months of construction to get the new bridge in place but the existing roads will be open to traffic during that time. Certainly there will be some construction delays through there but we won't have a traffic signal. As far as construction impacts, there will still be access to the marina during construction and there will still be access across the bridge. It will be posted. Its at 22 tons right now and we hope to be able to keep it at that weight posting. I don't see anything happening that's going to have us change that," he said.
Degges said it is important that the TDOT proceed with no further delays because of the deterioration of the bridge. "Old bridges deteriorate a lot faster than newer bridges. The condition goes along pretty uniform for a number of years but when that condition (of the bridge) drops, it plummets pretty fast so that's why we made the decision to go ahead and move forward with this project," he said.
"The real issue for this project is constructability," said Degges. "The first issue here is that the water is over one hundred feet deep. These piers coming up out of the bottom of the river will be about two hundred feet tall. Building the foundation underwater in one hundred feet of water is difficult work. The steepness of the ravine going down to the river makes it very difficult as well. We have a 335 foot main span but the real issue is getting the sub-structures in place and being able to get the cranes in to be able to hang the beams, he said.
The new bridge will be built next to the existing one. Once the new bridge is completed, the existing bridge will be removed. "We're going to build what we call a steel plate girder bridge with a concrete deck," said Degges. "Right now, the bridge is a truss.The bridge is somewhat narrow. The new bridge we're going to put in here will have twelve foot lanes and ten foot shoulders. It will be what most people would consider a traditional bridge in that the beams of this bridge will be under the deck," he said.
The project is expected to cost over $30 million dollars. It will be funded under TDOT's Better Bridges, a four year program approved in 2009 by the Tennessee General Assembly that utilizes bonds to pay for the repair or replacement of more than 200 structurally deficient bridges in the state including Sligo. "We were able to come up with a new funding mechanism which we call our Better Bridges Program that allows us to utilize dollars available so we don't have to borrow money. It is a way that we use bond authorizations that allow us to let bigger projects and pay for them as they're being constructed. It keeps us from having to borrow any money but it allows us to advance pretty expensive projects," said Degges.
State Representatives Terri Lynn Weaver and Mark Pody and other TDOT officials joined Degges at the meeting Thursday night with the county commission.