SEQUATCHIE, Tenn. - Work to widen and renovate the Valley View Highway bridge over the Little Sequatchie River is nearing completion, officials say.
Marion County Mayor John Graham said the improvement project has been a longtime need for residents on that side of the county.
"It's just been a project that the county has been trying to get in place for a dozen years or so," Graham said. "I'm very satisfied and happy to see it getting close to being finished so we can have a safer bridge in the next few months."
Marion County Road Superintendent Neil Webb said county crews will begin work on the approaches to the bridge next week and construction will be complete in September.
Stan Wallin, foreman for contractor Talley Construction, said Thursday that work was now down to the construction of new concrete rails along the side of the newly resurfaced bridge.
As the project got into full swing around May, Wallin said there was some "bad" concrete the crew had to remove prior to patching the bridge's surface. But he and crew members noted now much steel reinforcement there was in the old concrete, so there will be no worries about structural weakness with the patches done.
On Thursday, the bridge appeared completely resurfaced with bright new concrete.
"We're real close now," Wallin said.
County officials and nearby residents say the improvements have been needed because the low angle of approach from either side makes it hard for drivers to see oncoming traffic or the other end of the bridge.
The approaches are a problem area that probably caused most of the accidents over the years, Webb said, including one in which he was the victim of a hit and run while he was conducting an inspection back in 1998.
Kenneth and Deborah Matthews, residents at the north end of the bridge for 26 years, said they have seen more traffic accidents than they can count -- including "seven or eight fatalities" -- at the nearly-90-year-old structure.
The Matthews agree that the project -- under a county contract with Rossville-based Talley Construction -- is a bit of an inconvenience for folks north of the Little Sequatchie River since it involves a six-mile detour, but the bridge has needed work for years.
Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said the 287-foot-long concrete deck and girder bridge with seven spans was built in 1924, but otherwise the state has very little historical background.
The bridge project is funded through a state-aid bridge grant that provides $387,004 while the county will contribute $96,832 in local funds and in-kind work, according to state and local officials.
County crews will do the work to improve the approaches to save money on the project, according to Webb.