By Cliff Hightower
SPRING CITY, Tenn. -- Tennessee Department of Transportation officials said last week they don't know when a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 27 between Spring City and state Route 68 will be widened.
Construction crews are widening the road through the center of town and northward, officials said. But increased construction costs have caused the contractor to ask for more money to complete the work on the south end of town, said Jennifer Osborne, TDOT spokeswoman.
"We have not negotiated new prices for the work, since we are still reviewing our options," Ms. Osborne said.
Rhea County officials said Friday they want to know the work will be completed.
"I'd hate to know that they're going to build a four-lane road from Rockwood to Chattanooga and a mile-and-a-half of it is incomplete," County Commissioner John Mincy said. "That's unacceptable."
Commissioner Terry Broyles said not completing the work would be "like we're isolating Spring City from Dayton and Dayton from Spring City."
Sevierville, Tenn.-based Charles Blalock and Sons Inc. is the contractor. Officials estimated the cost in 1999 at $9.2 million, Ms. Osborne said. A change approved in 2005 when work resumed added $1.5 million to the overall price tag.
She would not say how much more the company is seeking because the state and the company are negotiating, she said.
Company officials could not be reached for comment last week.
TDOT has considered renegotiating the contract with Blalock and rebidding the contract, Ms. Osborne said.
"We're not abandoning it," Ms. Osborne said. "That's not one of the options."
TDOT officials said the project originally was bid in December 1999, but it was badly delayed because of problems acquiring rights-of-way and environmental permits. Charles Blalock and Sons asked for more money because construction prices have gone up since 1999, Ms. Osborne said.
The north end of the project will be completed by July 2008, she said.
One of the major issues involves moving about 3,600 feet of Town Creek that flows next to the highway, Ms. Osborne said.
Environmental permits issued to TDOT and the contractor allow work only between June and September because the stream rises in the fall, Ms. Osborne said. There are no endangered species in the creek, she said.
County Executive Billy Ray Patton said Friday he would make an appointment to speak with TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely if the road project falls through.
Mr. Patton said he was Spring City manager when the project started and saw delay after delay that kept the road from being completed. Mr. Patton said the state is at fault for not getting environmental permits in a timely manner and letting costs escalate.
"I've got to blame TDOT for this," he said.
Ms. Osborne said there were several factors out of TDOT's control that led to delays, such as replacing a railroad spur, relocating Town Creek and satisfying both state and federal environmental agencies.
Mr. Patton said the two-lane road creates bottlenecks and safety hazards for motorists.
"It's deplorable," Mr. Patton said. "It's like driving on a scrub board."
Mr. Mincy said many Spring City residents drive the highway every day to jobs in Dayton. He said he felt the two-lane road isolates the city from the rest of the county and he said he would go to Nashville, if need be, to make sure the road is completed.
"That's only a mile-and-half of road," he said. "That's bad planning on the state's part."
E-mail Cliff Hightower at email@example.com