The condition and weight-bearing capabilities of what most everyone knows as the Armstrong Road Bridge caused the BMA to follow state directives and close the bridge in June 2017.
Armstrong Road runs north and south and is a main thoroughfare from Broadway north to Locust Street and Main Street, with the bridge closest to the south end of Armstrong at Broadway. Its proximity to Rogersville City School and Ballad’s Hawkins County Memorial Hospital makes it a convenient route in all directions.
BMA didn’t want to close the bridge
Being a member of the BMA, I can tell you the complete closing of the bridge was not something we wanted to do. The state gave us 14 days to repair it, completely close it, or take it down to one lane or risk losing state funding for further projects. Like myself, knowing there was no way to quickly bring it up to state standards, BMA members saw the best and safest option being to close it.
An 80 percent state grant was already approved to mostly cover the $1 million cost, and we were hopeful construction would be completed quickly.
Shortly after, an opportunity arose for a 100 percent grant from the IMPROVE Act, managed through the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Although the grant was awarded, the town of Rogersville does not receive the funds directly. The state is financially responsible for the project. TDOT wheels turn slowly. For a project like this, there are several steps, each one needing completion before moving on to the next.
There is no projected completion date
A few weeks ago, I contacted Mark Nagi, who is the TDOT community relations officer for our region. He provided me with a copy of the contract covering the project, and the paragraph you all are likely most interested in is the one that includes the wording, “The Agency agrees to complete the herein assigned phases of the Project on or before N/A.” In other words, there is not a projected completion date.
He said, “The department has begun the preliminary design on the bridge replacement project over Crockett Creek on South Armstrong Road. We are currently anticipating holding a right-of-way field review late June and beginning the right-of-way appraisal and acquisition phase late August. Typically, the right-of-way phase takes between 9-12 months to acquire property and coordinate with utilities on this particular type of project. The cost of the project is funded through the 1990 Bridge Grant Program, the IMPROVE Act of 2017, and the High Priority Bridge Replacement Program.”
Rogersville needs TDOT funding for this project
Yes, there is a way to completely replace the bridge more quickly than waiting for the state to complete the project, but that would mean the town of Rogersville would need to come up with $1 million-plus through implementing additional property taxes.
Why so expensive? In addition to usual construction costs, every utility that serves Rogersville from one end to the other has to be temporarily moved from under the bridge during construction and placed back afterwards. Water, sewer, electricity, phone, and more all run under the bridge, making the project much larger than first meets the eye.
With no guaranteed timeline in place, Rogersville Mayor Jim Sells proposed, and the rest of the BMA agreed, to open the bridge one-way south to north in the interest of alleviating some of the inconvenience being experienced by motorists.
Accessibility to hospital a major concern
The mayor and all of us felt that faster accessibility to the hospital was a major concern. With school out for the summer, the traffic at the beginning and end of the school day is not currently as heavy in that area but will also be eased somewhat in the fall.
All of the BMA respectfully request that motorists be extremely cautious in the area of the bridge while we get used to the new traffic pattern. Please observe the one-way rule to avoid serious accidents.
And, as a reminder, information on this or any city issue can be obtained through City Hall or by attending any of the meetings of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. They are scheduled for the second Tuesday of each month, beginning at 7 p.m., at City Hall, located at 106 E. Kyle St. in Rogersville.
Mark DeWitte is a Rogersville alderman, as well as a member of the Hawkins County Commission.