Hawkins County road chief says funding from stimulus package doesn't include money for Longs Bend Road Bridge

Jeff Bobo • Mar 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM

SURGOINSVILLE — Hawkins County Highway Superintendent Lowell Bean wasn’t contacted or consulted before the Tennessee Department of Transportation awarded federal stimulus funds for bridge replacement.

Among the first 10 Tennessee bridges slated for replacement with federal stimulus funds is the 20-foot-long Okolona Road Bridge, which crosses Alexander Creek north of Church Hill.

Bean told the Times-News on Sunday there’s no doubt that the Okolona Bridge needs repair or replacing, and the county was fully prepared to pay the regular 20 percent match for the job under the state bridge program. The Okolona Bridge is expected to have an overall price tag of approximately $500,000.

Left off the list, however, was the 550-foot Longs Bend Road Bridge, which crosses the Holston River in downtown Surgoinsville and was constructed in 1953. Replacement of that bridge, which Bean said is in worse shape than the Okolona Bridge, is expected to cost $7 million to $8 million.

The first time Bean heard about the stimulus bridge funding was when it was announced in the newspaper.

“That’s why I’m so disappointed or upset because I think TDOT should have at least met with the local officials to let them know what was going on, and then we could have worked together and probably gotten both bridges done at the same time,” Bean said. “There’s $572 million coming into the state of Tennessee on the stimulus package, so I feel like asking for $8 million of that for Hawkins County on these two bridges is not too much.”

Bridges were not chosen for stimulus funding based their condition, but instead based on the date they were placed on a replacement list. Okolona was put on the list in 2000, while Longs Bend Road didn’t make it until 2006.

Both bridges are important to their respective communities, although Bean noted that if there was a problem with the Okolona bridge, it could be temporarily replaced by putting a couple of big tiles in the creek to keep traffic moving.

If something happens to the bridge on Longs Bend Road, Hawkins County residents south of the Holston River near Surgoinsville are looking at a long detour because the closest river crossings are on Goshen Valley Road in Church Hill and Burem Road just south of Rogersville.

With the bridge closed, an ambulance or fire truck stationed only a quarter mile away in Surgoinsville would need 15-20 minutes to make it to a neighborhood on the south side of the river.

“Right now this (Longs Bend Road) bridge is in worse shape,” Bean said. “What worries me about that is they might come along and condemn this bridge and close it down. With the people living on the other side, fire and emergency equipment would have to go through Church Hill, and that could be disastrous for the people living on this side of the bridge.”

Problems with the Surgoinsville bridge include the concrete on the wing walls that is deteriorating and at risk of falling out. The decking is also loose and at risk of falling through.

There’s not much chance of a vehicle falling all the way through into the river because of 11 I-beams beneath the bridge asphalt. In the case of a bridge failure, Bean said at worst a tire would break through the decking.

But that would still result in the bridge being closed.

“The state has said it will replace this (Longs Bend Road) bridge in 2010, but what worries me is what if the stimulus money is gone,” Bean said. “With the 80/20 split, this bridge could cost Hawkins County a little over $1 million, as opposed to Okolona which would have cost us about $100,000 under the state program. For all the taxpayers in Hawkins County, that’s a big difference.”

Bean said he has been in contact with TDOT, as well as Rep. Mike Harrison and Sen. Mike Faulk seeking their assistance in getting the Longs Bend Road bridge funded with stimulus money.

“I just wish they would have sat down with us to discuss this so we could have worked in both bridges, or at least the most expensive bridge,” Bean said. “I’d like to ask (the governor and TDOT commissioner) to come up and meet with me and let us go over this bridge, and show them and explain to them that we can build both bridges at the same time.”

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