BLOUNTVILLE — State highway officials stand by their earlier estimate of $6 million to convert a bridge on Highway 75 for pedestrian use, a Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) spokesman told the Times-News on Friday.
The total cost could reach $8.4 million if a replacement bridge is redesigned in order to keep the old bridge standing, according to TDOT.
Travis Brickey, Region 1 communications and community relations officer for the state agency, said TDOT officials were “dumbfounded” to hear Sullivan County commissioners have been waiting for more information on the cost estimates.
For two months the Sullivan County Commission has deferred action on a resolution regarding the bridge. Commissioners said they were waiting on the state to respond to questions about how leaving the bridge in place could cost so much.
“The bridge division and headquarters are unaware of any request from Sullivan County for a cost estimate breakdown,” Brickey said. “If they were to receive an official request asking for an estimate breakdown, they could certainly provide them with what they have. But they have not received that request.”
In April, a letter to County Mayor Steve Godsey from Tennessee Commissioner of Transportation Gerald Nicely was distributed to county commissioners.
That letter, dated April 3, listed the $6 million and $2.4 million cost estimates for converting the current bridge to pedestrian use and redesigning the replacement bridge.
Brickey said the $6 million figure includes: fencing along each side of the old bridge, new paint, steel repairs, general strengthening, and repair of some erosion.
“The reason we’re getting off of it is it needs to be replaced,” Brickey said. “It needs some attention, it needs some repairs. Even though it would be for pedestrians, some of those things would still need to happen. Our bridge department, which is one of the best in the country, stands firm behind that estimate.”
The $2.4 million mentioned in the April 3 letter is an estimate of what it would cost — in addition to the $6 million — to change facets of the new bridge, Brickey said.
Those changes would be needed to make the new bridge’s supports in the water line up with the old bridge’s supports — a situation seen as “ideal,’ Brickey said.
As for the $6 million to get the bridge ready for pedestrian use, “That would be something the county and TDOT would have to talk about — because the bridge would become county-owned,” Brickey said.
The new bridge is under construction with an estimated completion date of Nov. 30, 2010, Brickey said.
“The bridge is happening,” Brickey said. “The TDOT contract has not changed.”
Under that $9.7 million contract, the new bridge will have traffic on it as of the completion date — and the old bridge will be gone, Brickey said.
“The reason TDOT is replacing the existing bridge is because it is very old, requires a lot of tender loving care, it requires a lot of attention and it’s a maintenance burden on TDOT,” Brickey said. “Bridges are something we don’t fiddle with — anytime you go across a structure, you are trusting that structure in going to be sound and safe and get you from one end to the other. That’s something that TDOT takes very, very seriously.”
Asking TDOT to convert the bridge to pedestrian use is among items on the Sullivan County Commission’s agenda for June 16.