County highway superintendent Lowell Bean received an email from the Tennessee Department of Transportation on July 3 stating that the bridge should be closed immediately and giving him until Wednesday to close the bridge.
Among the repairs that must be made before TDOT allows the bridge to stay open: replace steel stringers in three sections of the bridge that have rusted completely through, repair the bearing pier on pier number one, repair areas on the I-beams that have corroded, and repair the bridge decking itself.
TDOT is currently overseeing construction of a new Longs Bend Road Bridge over the Holston River in Surgoinsville. The new bridge is located beside the old bridge, but it’s not scheduled for completion until May.
Bean told the Times-News Sunday he has been working with TDOT on a plan to extend the life of the old bridge until the new bridge is completed.
Bean estimated the repairs mandated by TDOT for the old bridge to stay open could cost between $10,000 and $20,000, and therefore must be bid.
This week, Bean will be conducting a faster emergency bid process to make the repairs, and he hopes to have a contractor under contract within a week.
However, Bean said he doesn’t want to close the bridge for one day if it can be avoided. People who live on the south side of the Holston River in and near Surgoinsville rely on the Longs Bend Road Bridge every day.
There are river crossings in Church Hill on Goshen Valley Road and in Rogersville on Burem Road. But from the south side of the river, the routes to those other bridges are mostly narrow, winding rural roads.
The added amount of response time for emergency vehicles dispatched to residences on the south side of the bridge would be 30 to 45 minutes.
Bean said he’s hoping to work out an extension with TDOT so that the old bridge can remain open until repairs are completed.
“If we can get a crew in there for about a week we should be able to open that bridge back up,” Bean said. “I’m communicating with TDOT regularly and we’re trying to work out an extension so that we can keep the bridge open until these repairs are completed. Closing the bridge is going to create a terrible hardship for the folks who live on the other (south) side of the river and have to cross that bridge every day.”
Bean said he should know by no later than mid-week if the old bridge will be closed and for how long.
Surgoinsville Vice-mayor Merrill Graham is chairman of a municipal bridge committee that was formed the last time the old bridge was closed — in the mid-1990s. That closure lasted about a year as repairs were made.
He said that if the old bridge is closed until the new bridge is completed, which could be as late as May, it would be a tremendous hardship on the affected residents.
“We’re not saying leave an unsafe bridge open,” Graham said. “We’re just telling TDOT we’d like them to make an effort to get repairs made, and to make an effort to not close the bridge down. I feel like we can do that, and get it inspected (after it’s repaired) in time to keep the bridge from being shut down.
“That bridge has been nothing but a problem and I can’t wait to get the new bridge open and hopefully forget about all these problems with that new bridge.”