Commuters will likely have to wait another two years before regaining full access to Standifer Gap Road.
Since closing the small 50-foot bridge that sits between Hickory Valley Road and Shallowford Road in 2016 because of unsafe conditions, the Chattanooga Department of Transportation has been working to replace the worn-out structure and reopen the road by this spring.
Now, because of funding complications, transportation officials say the anticipated completion date for the project has been extended to summer of 2020.
Before the closure, about 2,580 vehicles traveled through the area near the bridge each day, said Jennifer Flynn, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. That traffic has since been rerouted to Hickory Valley Road and Shallowford Road through detours similar in distance.
But some, like Joe Malecki, say the loss of the roadway is an inconvenience, especially since it serves as an "escape route" from Shallowford, which tends to back up for several miles near Hamilton Place mall.
"It's just a better way to avoid all the traffic especially during the holidays," said Malecki, who previously used Standifer Gap's bridge at least once per day. "It's been a long time, and it doesn't look like there's any effort at all — anybody working on it or anybody doing anything to it."
The delay comes as a result of a change in anticipated funding source for the project, said Eddie Tate, senior engineer at CDOT. Planners are now working with the state's Local Programs Development Office to secure funding through TDOT's Transportation Improvement Program.
The estimated cost to replace the bridge is $1.2 million, according to TDOT's 2017 appraisal. Tate said that figure has not changed.
"The current dollar amount is just an estimate to secure the appropriate level of funding," he explained. "We will not know all the construction details until after we finish the environmental review and complete the engineering design."
If CDOT receives the TIP grant for the project, 80 percent of the construction's expense will be covered by federal dollars. The remaining 20 percent — about $240,000 — would be paid for by the city.
Still, Malecki said the closure will continue to prove frustrating for those who used the bridge in the meantime. He pointed specifically to drivers along the blocked corridor who are forced to go out of their way to reach their destinations.
"I don't understand how you can just close a road and go, 'Well. Too bad,'" Malecki said. "It doesn't make any sense."
Transportation officials say for now, their main priority is keeping drivers safe.
TDOT recommended closing the 40-year-old bridge to all traffic after a biannual inspection revealed continued deterioration of the structure's steel beams, leading to a poor sufficiency rating.
Sufficiency ratings, based on National Bridge Inspection Standards, are calculated by tallying a bridge's structural adequacy and serviceability, among other factors.
Bridges with a rating lower than 50 out of 100 are eligible for replacement. At the time of TDOT's inspection, the bridge on Standifer Gap Road was given a sufficiency rating of 3.4.
"There is a risk of the bridge failing if traffic is allowed on it at this time," Tate said.
Once funding is obtained, planners hope to replace the rusting steel structure with a concrete bridge to slow the rate of deterioration, Tate said. The actual construction will likely only take four to six months, he added.
Tate said CDOT will continue to keep citizens updated on the project's progress through community meetings at Woodland Park Baptist. Planners will hold another such meeting in late spring or early summer after they've made further steps toward acquiring funding for the project and have begun the design phase.
Email Myron Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org.