It could become a county-owned pedestrian and biking bridge — right where it is — possibly serving as a centerpiece for development of a new public green space, Torbett said.
The Sullivan County Commission rejected an effort earlier this month that sought to have the county ask the state to dismantle — rather than demolish — the circa 1936 bridge. The proposal was to save the structure for use in historic preservation projects elsewhere in the county, including in the Blountville Historic District.
Some commissioners supported the concept. But not enough. Those who voted against the proposal cited concerns over how much it might cost to have the structure dismantled and to move, store and reinstall parts of the bridge at other locations. The County Commission voted the proposal down on March 17 by a 12-9 vote.
Torbett said when the Tennessee Department of Transportation got word of that decision, they contacted the county with a new possibility.
“The plan now is (for the county) to make a formal recommendation back to TDOT to keep the bridge where it is and barricade it off and make it a footbridge,” Torbett said.
There’s no public trail near either end of the bridge now, Torbett said, but the state’s existing right of way could form the basis for one.
“I’m hoping to get a letter of support from the Southern Appalachian Greenways Alliance (SAGA) to promote a regional trail between Sullivan County and Washington County and ask TDOT to build us a trail. That might be included in their construction plans for the Highway 75 widening project, or it might have to be an enhancement project we’d try to get funded through a grant.”
Martha Carver, with TDOT’s Region 1 office in Knoxville, first suggested the idea to County Mayor Steve Godsey last week, Torbett said.
“We all thought that was a great idea,” Torbett said. “And it’s cheaper and it’s no work other than putting up the barricade and coming up with the plan for a trail. Eventually that area will be developed, as Gray expands up Highway 75 and Blountville and the airport area expand from the other direction. So now is the time to get the right of way secured and get it mapped out.”
Torbett said she’s always been told, by TDOT officials, that a sure way not to get something is to not ask for it.
The bridge in question spans the Fort Patrick Henry Lake reservoir — just below Boone Dam — on Highway 75.
It’s scheduled for removal to make way for a road-widening project on Highway 75, according to the resolution voted down by the County Commission.
Actual construction on the project is a couple of years away, but the bid process is expected to move forward in the next few months, proponents of saving the bridge have said.