The Sullivan County Highway Department closed the bridge after it was damaged during a storm more than a month ago. On Monday, SCHD Public Information Officer Chris Salley launched a campaign to raise public awareness of the closure, in part because on an almost daily basis the department’s workers are finding evidence people are ignoring signs, climbing a barricade and venturing onto the bridge.
“I don’t know if they’re just wanting to walk to the edge and see for themselves or what they’re thinking,” Salley said. “But it is dangerous. And it is illegal. Anytime a bridge is closed and marked as closed and blocked off it is illegal to go onto the bridge. We don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
The bridge is named in memory of Nellie Pratt. The Sullivan County Commission voted in 2005 to honor Pratt in such a way, citing Pratt’s efforts in having the bridge built to replace the old one.
Salley met with the Times-News at the bridge Monday afternoon to offer details:
• The bridge, designed in 1997 to replace a heavily-dilapidated structure that had served the community for generations, was first damaged in a storm more than a month ago. The initial damage happened when a wind-stabilization cable pulled loose, taking its anchor with it. That anchor was in a support beam between two of the 10-foot sections that make up the bridge’s wooden walking deck — and also acted as the anchor to a cable supporting the walkway from the main suspension cables high overhead.
• With that anchor gone, the beam sagged without support from the cables and the two sections sagged as well. Ultimately, the beam detached, and by late July the two sections had disconnected from each other and each was hanging toward the river.
• Highway department workers contacted the Tennessee Valley Authority, and TVA said to cut the sections loose and let them fall into the water where they could be pulled ashore.
• A highway department worker, rigged into a harness and attached to the bridge’s main suspension cables, went out to the damaged area and, after tying a rope to each section and throwing the other end of the rope to workers on the shore below, used a crowbar and a three-pound sledge hammer to knock the damaged sections loose. When he succeeded, the other workers pulled the sections ashore.
Now, a long-range repair plan must be developed, Salley said, and that will include a thorough evaluation of the overall structure to identify any other potential problems.
Salley said the first steps in that process have been taken with the highway department contacting the Kingsport-based engineering firm that designed the bridge and the Kentucky-based contractor who constructed it.
Once a repair plan is in development, a cost estimate and project timeline will follow, Salley said.