The Highway 75 bridge may soon be removed. Photo by Ned Jilton II.
BLOUNTVILLE — Just think of it as a bridge to the past.
Or the ultimate recycling project.
The Blountville Historic District could be getting a new “entrance,” harking back to the days of World War I or earlier.
Preservation activists are calling for action to save the steel truss frame of a circa 1936 bridge that spans the Fort Patrick Henry Lake reservoir — just below Boone Dam — on Highway 75.
That bridge is scheduled for removal to make way for a road-widening project on Highway 75, according to a resolution up for consideration by the Sullivan County Commission.
That measure calls on the commission to authorize the Bristol Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to ask the Tennessee Department of Transportation to give the bridge’s framework to Sullivan County “for future enhancement projects.”
An MPO is a multi-jurisdictional group involved in long-range transportation planning, often involved in projects at the state and federal levels.
The Bristol MPO’s boundary covers the Blountville Historic District, and the MPO is listed in the resolution as working with the Sullivan County Regional Historic Zoning Commission on this project.
While it is a longer span, old photographs and drawings show the bridge on Highway 75 is similar in style and design to a circa 1916 bridge over Muddy Creek on State Route 126 on the eastern approach to Blountville.
That’s where Anita Buchanan Long and others involved in long-range planning for the the Historic District want to install part of the framework from the Highway 75 bridge.
Long said she wants the county to seek all of the Highway 75 bridge’s framework.
“Adding the historic open steel truss side components over the existing bridge will create a defined entrance to the historic district corridor similar to the previous bridge of the early 1900s,” the resolution states.
Having TDOT instruct a contractor to dismantle the Highway 75 bridge — rather than cut it up and sale it for scrap — would cost Sullivan County nothing, Long told members of the Commission’s Budget Committee last week.
Long said TDOT is expected to let the bid for the Highway 75 project soon, and it’s important to include details of how to dismantle the bridge and what to do with the parts once it’s removed in the contract for the work.
Commissioner Mark Vance said placement of the bridge would pose a safety hazard, because if traffic ran off the road vehicles would hit iron bridgework rather than going into a ditch.
Long said she thinks it could improve safety from a different vantage point — that of walkers, cyclists, or those on horseback traveling beside the road.
The Budget Committee endorsed giving the MPO the OK to seek the bridge’s steel truss framework from TDOT.
The resolution is listed for first reading by the full commission on Feb. 19. A vote that day would require 16 votes for approval — a two-thirds majority of the 24-member commission. If left on the agenda a month, the resolution would be listed as “old business” in March and require only a simple majority — 13 votes — to gain passage.