A bridge between Soddy Daisy and Harrison could cost almost half-a-billion dollars. That's why, a year ago, Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) officials shot down the idea of a toll bridge connecting the two communities.
But you can't keep a good idea down — at least for area residents who would benefit from the bridge. It would dramatically ease their commute — especially those who live on the Soddy-Daisy side and work at big companies on the Harrison side such as Volkswagen, McKee Foods and Wacker.
"By boat, it's five minutes. By car, it's 45," said Lakesite resident Dawn Thorton who on July 29 launched an online petition on thepetitionsite.com to ask the state to reconsider the bridge.
By Aug. 10, the petition was less than 500 signatures shy of its 10,000 signature goal.
Thorton hopes that TDOT will take another look at the bridge and listen to the public.
"Soddy is growing. And Harrison has always been a thriving community," she said.
No immediate plans
However, TDOT doesn't have plans to build a bridge between Harrison and Soddy Daisy at the present time — or at any time in the near future, TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said.
It's not on a list of future projects in development, she said, and it's not included on the list of priority projects that will go forward in Hamilton County as part of the Improve Act that recently raised Tennessee's gas tax.
"Our officials in Nashville are aware that there is a petition," said Flynn, who said the project's price tag was estimated in 2009 to cost anywhere from $263 million to $433 million.
Just the bridge would cost in the neighborhood of $190 million, TDOT officials said last year, while the approaches — the connections between the Soddy-Daisy end and the Harrison/I-75 side — would run as high as $300 million more.
That said, TDOT hasn't ruled out the bridge.
"That is not to say that we would not revisit that project at some point in the future," Flynn said. "It just won't happen as a toll bridge."
She said, "Should it ever happen, it will be very far into the future."
Bridge studied for a decade
Flynn laid out the decade-long process under which TDOT studied the area for a possible toll bridge.
After the state legislature passed the Tennessee Tollway Act in 2007, the Hamilton County Commission created the Tennessee River Bridge Committee, which consisted of various state and local elected officials.
The bridge committee worked with TDOT's long-range planning division and a consultant to explore the feasibility of building a new Tennessee River Bridge that would connect Soddy-Daisy and Harrison.
In 2008, the feasibility study was completed.
The committee asked TDOT study to four alternative alignments, and two public meetings were held.
At the meetings, Flynn said, there was support for the project and tolling in general but at that time — since it was very early in the process — there was no information on how much the tolls might be.
Then, Volkswagen announced in July of 2008 that it would build its assembly plant in Chattanooga. TDOT decided to wait to see how the VW plant would affect area traffic before continuing with the study, Flynn said.
In 2011, a new conceptual toll feasibility study was completed. In 2012, the findings were presented to the bridge committee.
Then the committee recommended a fifth alternative alignment from Soddy-Daisy to Bradley County. In 2013, the consultant presented the results of the study of the five alternatives to TDOT and the bridge committee.
In 2014, a residential and truck toll survey was developed, Flynn said, to determine the desire to pay for a new bridge crossing. In 2015, the consultant administered the survey, analyzed the results and reported them to TDOT.
In 2016, these results were presented to the bridge committee. The study concluded that, while most people supported the concept of tolling as a way to pay for projects in Tennessee, the willingness of the people to pay a large enough toll to make this particular project economically feasible fell far short, Flynn said.
So, in July 2016, TDOT suspended work on the project, she said.
Petition surprises local officials
Thorton questioned the estimated cost of the bridge, which she said would relieve congestion elsewhere in the Chattanooga region and would make it easier for emergency response vehicles to get around in the Soddy Daisy and Harrison area.
"I find it hard to believe that it's going to cost as much as that," she said. "I'm skeptical about the cost of the bridge."
Meanwhile, local officials like the idea of Soddy Daisy-to-Harrison bridge, but a number of them figured the price tag was too big of a hurdle.
"It's just an incredibly expensive bridge," said State Representative Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, whose district includes Harrison and Sale Creek. "My understanding is it's on the back, back burner."
Carter said a commercial ferry company contacted him last year after TDOT officials broke the news about the bridge's cost to the county commission.
"I haven't heard back," said Carter, who was willing to assist.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger also would like to see the bridge to be built, but felt the cost made it unlikely.
County Commissioner Chester Bankston, who represents the Harrison area, said he planned to sign Thorton's online petition.
"I plan to sign the petition because we really need that bridge," Bankston said.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or on Twitter @meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.