Completion of welcome center project pushed back

Matthew Lane • Jun 17, 2013 at 2:18 PM

KINGSPORT — The timeline for the welcome center project has changed again and will likely mean construction of the actual building will not take place until later this summer, pushing the completion date into early 2014.

This is the latest word from Kingsport and Tennessee Department of Transportation officials who gave the Times-News an update on the project last week.

The new Tennessee welcome center is located on Interstate 26 (mile marker 5.8), between the Wilcox Drive and Rock Springs Road exits. Since September 2011, Charles Blalock and Sons of Sevierville has been working on the first phase of the project — the roadway work and the construction of a new bridge over I-26.

The bridge was completed last fall, nearly all of the roadway work has been done, and over the past four months, minor items have been wrapping up, such as concrete work, signs, light poles and guardrails.

“The paving is complete and the striping is almost complete with some corrective work needing to take place. Once these are complete, we should be removing the signs along the interstate once all the contractor’s equipment has been removed,” said TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi. “Once this is done, the grading, bridge, and paving portion of the welcome center project will be complete with the ramps remaining closed until the building project is complete.”

Nagi added TDOT hopes to remove the signs along the interstate in the next couple of weeks.

The original completion date for the roadway and bridge work was September 2012 and as that work was winding down, the next phase of the project was supposed to come online soon after — the construction of the actual welcome center building.

The roadway contract did have a late revision earlier this year — the addition of a detention basin at Pond Springs Road — which pushed the project back by several months. Nagi said work on the detention basin is almost complete with some minor cleanup and corrective action left to be done.

TDOT officials had been shooting for a May start time for the building, but now the department is looking at a July construction start and an estimated completion date of January 2014.

Nagi said TDOT submitted the building plans to the Federal Highway Administration for review on May 16 and expect a response from the FHA soon.

“Building projects are a challenge to get approved when funding is provided by the federal government since they traditionally deal with line items, quantities and unit cost for all items within a project,” Nagi said. “The State Building Commission projects are bid as lump sum projects, which make it difficult for them in determining pay applications since it is not broken down into unitized elements.”

The new welcome center sits on a 20-acre site and will be similar in size and appearance to the one built in Unicoi County a few years ago. It will have approximately 50 spaces for vehicles, a couple for buses and 20 spots for tractor-trailers. The welcome center will allow access from both northbound and southbound lanes of traffic and the interchange will be a diamond type, similar to Exit 59 in Colonial Heights.

Including design work, construction and land acquisition, the total estimated cost of the project is $16.5 million. Money for the project came from the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federally funded, economic development agency for the 13 Appalachian states.

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