published Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Pam's Points: Rebuilding homes, bridges and parks

Rust breaks through an old support beam on the Marion County Bridge as "span one" of the replacement bridge is now in place.
Rust breaks through an old support beam on the Marion County Bridge as "span one" of the replacement bridge is now in place.
Photo by Tim Barber.

Helping handsgive veteran a lift

When was the last time you saw a City Council member volunteering time and labor on someone's home?

That's just what Chattanooga Councilman Chip Henderson did this weekend. He and a group of volunteers and the Lookout Valley Neighborhood Association began putting a new roof on the home of a 93-year-old World War II veteran, Frank Cordell. The roof leaked so badly that it had nearly fallen in, but the veteran and his seven dogs were making do.

On Friday, while roofers began the housetop work, Henderson installed a fence. This week, crews of volunteers will try to undo leak damage inside the house.

Good job, folks. Good job, Councilman. I think that's called leadership on the ground.

Tax dollars and the nation's infrastructure

Watching your tax dollars span a river will be an interesting pastime this fall, winter and spring.

Monster-sized steel girders -- 180,000 pounds and nearly twice as tall as a man -- began arriving in early October and started to inch across the Tennessee River at Haletown in Marion County late last month. The bridge will carry U.S. Highway 41 traffic.

The Marion County bridge, crossing a "narrow" part of the river (1,883 feet, or more than six and a half football fields, or just over a third of a mile) is estimated to cost $21.6 million.

It will connect the "scenic drive" from Chattanooga to Nashville. And once upon a time -- before Interstate 24 -- it was "the main road between Chicago and Miami."

The new span replaces an 82-year-old steel truss bridge that was structurally obsolete years ago.

The 20 foot-wide, two-lane track across the river was too narrow for today's wider vehicles to pass comfortably and had claimed countless vehicle side-mirrors over the years, according to Marion County highway workers. And rust problems forced a temporary closure of the bridge in 2010 so workers could fix some of the corroded steel. Highway officials had planned to keep the old bridge open during construction of the new bridge until core drillings found the old bridge had stability problems on the river bed, so the old trusses were closed.

The construction puts us among the nation's lucky. In total, one in nine of the nation's bridges are rated as structurally deficient, and the average age of the nation's 607,380 bridges is 42 years.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that to eliminate the nation's bridge deficient backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently. The 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure states that the nation's challenge is to increase bridge investments by $8 billion a year to address the identified $76 billion in needs for deficient bridges across the United States.

Whew. Now that's some tax dollars.

City parks review to look at use, need

Kudos to both the Land for Public Trust and Chattanooga for making a review of the city's 71 parks or greenways to determine whether they actually work for residents, and to find communities in need of green play-space.

The city renewed an annual $100,000 contract with the trust, but this year the agreement includes the trust advising the city about needs and opportunities in communities.

Trust director Rick Wood called it "a real investment in neighborhoods."

The city has about 4,000 acres of park space and more than 70 parks, recreational areas and greenways, but a community survey found that 30 percent of residents answering a survey said they never use the park nearest to their house. Another 41 percent said they visit the nearest park only a few times a year.

It's time for that review and a better plan.

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