published Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

New bridge would take toll on users

  • photo
    State Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, talks about a toll bridge over Chickamauga Lake on Wednesday in the Hamilton County Commission Room. Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield listens to the exchange with the engineer firm representative. Harmon, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said the new governor-elect is not in favor of toll roads for Tennessee.
    Staff Photo by Tim Barber

Hamilton County could get a sixth vehicle bridge across the Tennessee River within the next decade, but its users would need to pay $5 per trip to cover the costs of the span and related roads, a new study shows.

Consultants for the Tennessee Department of Transportation told local elected officials Wednesday that a new bridge in northern Hamilton County is feasible and could offer a quicker and more direct route between Collegedale and Soddy-Daisy -- the fastest-growing municipalities in the region.

But state transportation leaders said they are wary about the proposed fees needed to support what could be Tennessee's first toll bridge.

"I don't know that the people of Tennessee are willing to pay $5 to go across a bridge each way," said Joe Carpenter, TDOT's chief of environment and planning, who suggested more studies.

"This project is feasible, but it's not a slam dunk," Carpenter said.

Supporters of the new bridge insist a $5 toll may not seem that high by the time such a road is erected in 2018 or later. And the bridge would save time and fuel if drivers can shorten the current 50-mile trip from Ooltewah or Collegedale to Lakesite or Soddy-Daisy.

State Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, who convened Wednesday's bridge update, said growth from more than $2.5 billion of new plants being built by Volkswagen, Wacker Chemical and Amazon in Hamilton and Bradley counties mean a toll bridge would be well used.

"I think these developments took this project from 'probably not' to 'maybe will,'" Cobb said. "The $5 toll seems too high right now, but in eight to 10 years when this bridge could be built and opened that may not seem that bad."

Tolling for dollars

Tennessee doesn't charge fees for motorists to use roads or bridges. But growing maintenance needs and slowing gas tax collections have state officials looking at new ways to pay for needed infrastructure.

Carpenter said the state has more than $9 billion of unfunded projects under way, and maintenance of existing roads and bridges is likely to absorb a bigger share of TDOT's budgets in the future.

In 2007, the Tennessee General Assembly authorized state transportation planners to consider eight toll roads and bridges to keep the state from spending its own money.

The most feasible proposal is the bridge in northern Hamilton County -- $152 million to $246 million for the bridge and related roads -- and a bridge across the Mississippi River that could cost up to $1 billion.

Rebecca Brooks, director of development services for the consulting firm of Wilbur Smith and Associates, said the firm's study indicates that 6,700 to 7,600 cars and trucks would cross the northern Hamilton toll bridge every day, even with a $5 toll.

"That is a relatively low volume, but it is feasible," she said.

Lower-volume toll bridges are working in Orange Beach, Ala., and in Millbrook, Ala., she said.

Local planners have been pushing for a Tennessee River bridge between the Chickamauga Dam in Hixson and Highway 60 more than 30 miles upriver.

"This was put on the drawing board back in the 1970s and it's time to quit talking about this bridge and now do something about it," said Hamilton County Trustee and former County Commissioner Bill Hullander.

Finding a route

The bridges of Hamilton County

* Olgiati Bridge: U.S. Highway 27, downtown Chattanooga

* Market Street (Chief John Ross) Bridge: downtown Chattanooga

* Walnut Street Bridge: Pedestrian bridge, downtown Chattanooga

* Veterans Bridge: Connects Frazier and Georgia avenues, downtown Chattanooga

*C.B. Robinson Bridge: Connects Amniciola Highway and Access Road

* Southern Railway railroad bridge: Just below the Chickamauga Dam

* Thrasher Bridge: State Highway 153 over the Chickamauga Dam

Source: Tennessee Department of Transportation

TDOT consultants developed four alternatives for the toll bridge.

They include either a new interchange at mile marker 13 on Interstate 75, or the extension of the Enterprise South road through the industrial park to connect with Highway 58. The proposed bridge would be built near Lakesite across Lake Chickamauga.

TDOT already has spent $457,000 on studies. Next come more than $1 million for mapping, environmental studies and a detailed grading report, plus engineering and design costs, Carpenter said.

"We have to recognize that's a lot of money and will likely have to come out of other projects," he said.

State Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said TDOT "spends a tremendous amount of money on studies that don't accomplish anything."

Harmon said he is wary of additional study since Gov.-elect Bill Haslam said during the campaign that he doesn't favor toll roads.

"Revenues are going down and costs are going up, but I'm just not sure that Tennessee is ready yet for toll roads," Harmon said.

But Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said planners need to prepare for the expected influx coming from Volkswagen and other businesses.

"There are no easy answers to where the money is coming from, but we need to plan for the growth that is coming to our region and I think this bridge, should be part of that effort," he said.

Contact staff writer Dave Flessner at 757-6340 or dflessner@timesfreepress.com.

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AndrewLohr said...

Go for the toll: make the users pay for it. (Put up lots of signs warning of tolls ahead.)

December 23, 2010 at 1:22 a.m.
Allison12 said...

If there is money to be ripped from the hands of the public, Ron the Con will be there.

December 23, 2010 at 6:44 a.m.
Rivieravol said...

How exactly would a toll bridge rip money from the public?

If the driver thought the toll was economically feasible he would pay the toll and go over the bridge. If he didn't , he could use the existing bridges.

December 23, 2010 at 7:24 a.m.
inquiringmind said...

$5? That's ridiculous for a bridge toll

December 23, 2010 at 8:39 a.m.
Sailorman said...

Cheaper than a couple gallons of gas

December 23, 2010 at 8:57 a.m.
mrredskin said...

inquiringmind, have you tried getting to Soddy from the Cleveland area?

Didn't think so.

December 23, 2010 at 10:04 a.m.
sd said...

Most of the toll bridges I've used in other states were $3-4, but I think those had congestion discounts (if there's a lot of traffic on a bridge the toll rates are discounted during peak hours; I expect they would implement something similar with this bridge if a lot of people used it to commute daily).

December 23, 2010 at 10:14 a.m.
rockman12 said...

Taxpayers are going to pay for the bridge one way or another. If people want a shorter way to Soddy from I-75 the ones that will use it should pay for it. The taxes that I pay to the state should not get spent on something I will never use. Its about time the state starts thinking about ways to pay for things before they just build it. Haslam is not in favor of tolls because his companies vehicles will have to pay too and it takes money out of his pocket.

December 23, 2010 at 2:13 p.m.
jpo3136 said...

Our citizens become enraged at the prospect at paying a half cent tax increase for being able to flush the toilet during the month.

They are not going to use this bridge out of sheer cheapness, which would, in turn, cause the toll to escalate.

If you want to test me on this, head on down to any local government meeting, and just randomly propose that we pay for anything.

Bring a helmet.

How naive. Is this a test balloon? I suspect that there's some other option that they really want; so, to make that one look attractive, they'll do the old bit of offering one ugly hypothetical before it; then, they'll claim some schmoozing label to put on the next solution, which is what they want anyway.

Some kind of politico one-up. They know we'll hate this. What are they really up to?

December 23, 2010 at 4:39 p.m.
fairmon said...

The principle should be "user pays" whether it be a bridge an interstate or public parks and recreation centers, bike and walking trails. Local, state and federal governments have pandered citizens in cities, states and across the country with grants, subsidies, incentives, deductions, reductions under the pretense it is to help us while they print money to buy Treasuries, float bonds some states can't pay back, withhold pension fund contributions, under staff police and fire protection, education to fund the popular "nice to haves" that people demand but have no idea the cost but insist we all help them have it because it is good for the city, state or country.

At some point some poor soul that may not get re-elected has to make some tough decisions.

December 23, 2010 at 6:50 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

I am sure that there will be taxpayer money involved in the building then in the using. After that, maybe Tennessee will sell the toll bridge to foreign investors as seems to be the trend.

http://lighthousepatriotjournal.wordpress.com/2006/07/15/foreign-investors-lease-us-toll-roads/

http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-07-15-u.s.-highways_x.htm

A very interesting article in the Commercial Appeal paper in Memphis states:

"The department did identify a proposed bridge over the Tennessee River in Hamilton County as a "potentially favorable" project because tolls could pay anywhere from 54.5 percent to 77.5 percent of its costs."

http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2009/jan/25/report-tolls-wont-cover-bridge-02/

Then there is the cost. A couple of years ago, it was going to cost $250 million to build... http://tninfrastructure.org/documents/InTheNews20080905.pdf Now the cost is up to a billion dollars. http://www.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_191058.asp Why?

Here's the feasibility study http://www.tdot.state.tn.us/tollway/docs/TNRiverCFR020409.pdf Looks my little neighborhood in Ooltewah will not be nice and quiet much longer...sigh.

My granddaughter says "Well if they think it is too long of a drive, why don't they move?" That is an interesting question.

Oh, yeah, let the USERS pay for it.

December 23, 2010 at 8:46 p.m.
Echo said...

It stinks. The question is this: In whose pocket does Bill Harmon has his hands, a developer, a real estate speculator, a merchant group?

I've seen this in Chicago, It took that city 10 years to REBUILD a toll bridge on the Southside with taxpayer money and union labor. As soon as it was finally redone, it was sold by the City of Chicago to a private French company.

Why should taxpayers put up the risk money? Who is left holding the bag when people just don't want to pay?

State Rep. Bill Harmon, Democrat of Dunlap TN - Please don't gamble with public money to build a bridge and pay it back with private revenue. Soddy is affordable, quiet and pretty but if a bridge is built, developers will litter it with McMansions and cookie cutter strip mall nightmares. Soddy Daisy has a perfectly good route to downtown, and it does not need a greedy politician to commit the same crime that has been perpetrated at the base of Aetna Mountain.

State Rep. Bill Harmon, Democrat of Dunlap TN - If you and your campaign contributors want a bridge so bad, go to a venture capitalist, or a bank, and get it privately funded. Don't gamble public money to pave the way for your benefactor's business ventures.

December 23, 2010 at 11:45 p.m.
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