Because of safety worries, Chattanooga is going to ban trucks and buses from the Wilcox Boulevard bridge over the DeButts Rail Yard -- right next to CARTA's bus barn.
"Age-related structural issues" in the 54-year-old bridge have triggered concern, according to a Thursday news release from Richard Beeland, Mayor Ron Littlefield's spokesman.
"The Tennessee Department of Transportation identified numerous structural issues earlier this year and has notified the city of Chattanooga that load limits must be posted. Noncompliance will result in a suspension of all federal aid funding," Beeland wrote in the emailed release.
Starting Nov. 17, no vehicle heavier than 10 tons will be allowed on the bridge, which crosses the tracks between Riverside Drive and North Holtzclaw Avenue.
Jill Veron, director of transportation and planning for CARTA, said the agency has heard the weight limits might be in place for as long as three years.
"We'll be using Holtzclaw, and probably a lot of other traffic will be as well," she said. "If that becomes a problem, we may have other options."
CARTA Director Tom Dugan added, "Our real concern is making sure our service remains on time. If that's a problem, we'll have to start them a little earlier. It's not a terrible problem, just an inconvenience that's necessary for safety."
Norfolk Southern owns the DeButts Yard. Spokesman Robin Chapman confirmed Thursday that the railroad is responsible for maintaining the bridge under an agreement with the city.
He said workers in the railroad's bridge department have begun studying the structural problems.
"They are working on plans to get the bridge fixed," he said. The process is in the early stages, and there's no timeline for repairs yet, Chapman said.
TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said the department's bridge inspectors recently found problems and decided to limit traffic for safety reasons.
"Our bridge inspectors have the right to close any bridge they deem to be unsafe," Flynn said Thursday afternoon.
"If something's not resolved and a project put in place to deal with what's wrong with the bridge, it could conceivably deteriorate to the point it would have to be closed," she said. "We're not trying to cause anybody any problems. The safety of the bridge is our concern."
Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...
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