published Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

Massive marvel: Girders weighing up to 90 tons going up over Tennessee River on U.S. 41

Britton Bridge employees work on Span One for the Marion County Bridge under construction over the Tennessee River at Nickajack Lake.
Britton Bridge employees work on Span One for the Marion County Bridge under construction over the Tennessee River at Nickajack Lake.
Photo by Tim Barber.

NEW BRIDGE FACTS

Estimated cost: $21.6 million

Length: 1,883 feet

Number of steel girders needed to bridge the river: 48

Maximum girder height: 10-plus feet

Maximum girder length: 150 feet

Main span length: 415 feet

Heaviest individual girder: 180,000 pounds

Total weight of steel structure: 476,000 pounds

Weight of reinforcing steel: 1.6 million pounds

Cubic yards of concrete in the project: 13,000

Sources: Britton Bridge LLC, Tennessee Department of Transportation

HALETOWN, Tenn. — Gigantic steel girders are going up on the new U.S. Highway 41 bridge over the Tennessee River in Marion County as work resumes on the project that had been delayed for months.

The massive girders -- one of them weighs as much as 180,000 pounds and is nearly twice the height of a man -- might hint at why the plan for erecting them was important enough to stall the project while state Department of Transportation and Britton Bridge LLC officials nailed down an agreement on how they'll be built.

The project started in March 2011 but was delayed this year when state engineers balked at the company's plan for erecting the steel. TDOT approved a revised plan in September, though it still took a few weeks to get fabrication and delivery rescheduled, according to officials.

TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said negotiations on the steel plan took about six months. Once it was approved, girders started arriving at the site the first week of October, with the first beams being set in place on Oct. 21, Flynn said.

The good news is the project has resumed. The bad news is the delay could push back the February 2014 completion date, but officials say that is still to be determined.

Britton Bridge officials are "working with TDOT to meet the final completion date," Britton Bridge spokesman Pat Nolan said on Thursday.

The new bridge's 48 girders weigh a combined 5 million pounds, and erecting the massive spans is "difficult, potentially dangerous work," Nolan said.

Owners of bait and tackle shops on either end of the project say the new bridge can't be finished soon enough.

Linda Castle, owner of Anchor Inn Bait & Tackle on the bridge's east end, said the project has hit her business hard over the past two-and-a-half years.

"It's killed all my summer business," Castle said. "Fishermen don't want to have to get off the interstate to come here. I lost the [Marion County] campground business over there on the other side of the river."

Even her employees are burdened with more driving distance because of the detour, she said.

"The only thing that's kept me going are my local customers," Castle said. People in the community kept doing business with the store despite the ongoing project.

That was something so important to Castle's store that she held a "customer appreciation" event to say thanks, she said.

Castle's nearest competitor is the R&R Bait and Tackle store about two miles west of the project on U.S. 41.

Owner Dash Patel said he's known nothing but the project since buying the business in 2011 but is anxious to see how he fares with an open bridge.

"I'd been on the old bridge one time, and after a month they closed it," Patel said.

Both proprietors are "ready for it to be done."

Castle and Patel agreed that once it is, business will get back to normal and maybe even improve with a better bridge and recently completed paving and stabilization work on Highway 41 between Haletown and Tiftonia to the east.

"I'm trying to hold on and struggle through this," Castle said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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