published Saturday, February 15th, 2014

Traffic could flow over new Marion County bridge by summer

The Marion Memorial Bridge replacement project is running behind schedule but officials say traffic could begin flowing across the new span by summer 2014.

NEW BRIDGE FACTS

$21.6 million: Estimated cost

1,883 feet: New bridge length

60 feet: Height of bridge from river surface

415 feet: Main span length

48: Number of girders

10 feet: Maximum girder height

150 feet: Maximum girder length

180,000 pounds: Heaviest individual girder

13,000: Cubic yards of concrete in project

March 23, 2011: Construction start

Source: Tennessee Department of Transportation, Britton Bridge LLC

HALETOWN, Tenn. — The $21.6 million project launched in March 2011 to replace the Marion Memorial Bridge over the Tennessee River in Marion County is still about 30 percent shy of completion.

Work on the new span once was set to wrap up this month.

"We don't have an official completion date yet, but we hope to have traffic on the new bridge by this summer with a total project completion by the end of the year," Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said.

TDOT officials say the project on Jan. 31 had exceeded the almost 900-day original time line by five months.

The original completion date was Aug. 31, 2013, but a delay early in 2012 to set piers for the new bridge deeper into the riverbed pushed that completion date to this month. Then in 2013, contractor Britton Bridge LLC had to go back to the drawing board on a plan for erecting the steel structure after TDOT balked at the company's first plan.

An agreement between the state and Britton Bridge was reached last September, and steel was going up by November.

Bitter cold and snowy weather also slowed work this winter, but Flynn said there was "minimal" impact from the delays on the overall project cost.

TDOT is "very satisfied with both the [steel] plan and progress of its implementation, which is actually a bit ahead of schedule," Flynn said.

The state could seek penalties in connection with the delays, but Flynn said that type of action "has not yet been determined."

John Van Moll, spokesman for Britton Bridge, said Friday that weather has been a "big issue, but they're making steady progress."

Van Moll agreed with the state's projections on completion.

"The big milestone will be to work safely to get some traffic going across it," he said.

The 1929-era steel Parker truss-style span was tapped for replacement because it was too narrow by modern standards and had become unsound over its eight-decade lifetime.

David Thomas Jr., a customer Friday at the Anchor Inn Bait & Tackle store on the east end of the bridge, said residents in the riverside communities of Haletown and Guild are eager to see the new span open.

"I've lived here for 37 years, and I'm ready for it to be done," lifelong resident Thomas said.

But Thomas laments the loss of the old bridge and believes it would have been a good candidate for conversion to a pedestrian bridge.

The old bridge was considered for conversion at one time, but efforts to preserve the structure, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, were forestalled by the downturn in the economy, state officials said when the project started.

Flynn said demolition of the old bridge won't happen until traffic is flowing again and utility lines now carried on the old bridge are moved to the new span.

Roy Layne, manager of the 38-acre Marion County Park on the west end of the bridge, said the project has had little impact on the park or campground business.

Marion County Park regulars complain about the detour from U.S. Highway 41 onto Interstate 24 to get to the other side of the river, he said.

"We haven't had any problems, but I'm sure its been a big impact on Haletown over there, and I'm sure it's hard on the Anchor Inn," Layne 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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