The final step of construction, laying the asphalt, is being held hostage by the weather.
Arctic temperatures two weeks ago, followed by snow last week, have put the project in limbo, and there’s really no way to predict when it will be warm enough to put the asphalt down.
The old Longs Bend Road bridge has been closed since Nov. 25 to allow construction of the approaches to the new bridge. Those approaches now block entrance to the old bridge, which also now can’t be used. That means Surgoinsville residents on the south side of the Holston River will have to continue their detour to either Church Hill or Rogersville to cross the river.
Complicating the detour is the fact that the Goshen Valley road bridge in Church Hill is down to one lane for repairs for the next few months.
Hawkins County highway Superintendent Lowell Bean told the Times-News Monday he is also concerned about the narrow, winding rural roads on the south side of the river which become very treacherous for motorists when it snows.
Bean said that’s why he has requested the new bridge be opened, and allow motorists to drive on the gravel approaches and concrete bridge base until paving can be completed.
The problem is, no one seems to have the authority to approve a temporary opening.
Surgoinsville Vice Mayor Merrill Graham, who lives on the south side of the river a few doors down from the bridge, said Monday he’s asked the same question.
“The guy from TDOT (Tennessee Department of Transportation) said the state has a contract with Simpson Construction Company, but cannot tell Simpson to do anything,” Graham said. “But, if they (Simpson) want to open the bridge for travel on the gravel surface, they can, but the responsibility (for liability) would be theirs.”
Murrell said an official from Simpson Construction told him only TDOT has the authority to open and close roads.
Bean said he will continue to press the question in hopes of getting the bridge temporarily opened until the weather breaks.
“It might be weeks before we get a stretch of pretty weather where they can lay some asphalt,” Bean said. “If they can get the first layer down they’ll let us drive on that, and then put the final coat down later this spring. We just have no way of knowing when that will take place.”
The detour adds 30-45 minutes per trip across the river, coming and going.
Bean added, “It comes down to liability. If they open it now and somebody wrecks on one of the gravel approaches, Simpson Construction would be liable. The weather has really put us in a tough situation, and I just hate it for the people who live over there (south of the bridge). They’re the ones who are paying the price.”