Obama's 'Fix-It First' plan would include bridges

Obama's 'Fix-It First' plan would include bridges

July 31st, 2013 by Ellis Smith in Local Regional News

President Barack Obama waves after speaking Tuesday at the Amazon Sorting Facility in Chattanooga, Tenn. The trip marked the president's first visit to Chattanooga, where he spoke about job growth.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

POLL: Were you impressed by the president's speech?

Safety officials would take a hard look at the thousands of bridges in the Chattanooga region under a proposal President Barack Obama outlined in a Scenic City speech on Tuesday.

As part of Obama's two-pronged plan to lower corporate taxes and increase infrastructure spending, he highlighted Chattanooga's ongoing U.S. 27 road-widening project as an example of what he'd like to encourage.

"Congress should pass my "Fix-It-First" plan to put people to work immediately on our most urgent repairs, like the 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare," Obama told attendees.

He's got his work cut out for him. Bridges are expensive to repair, and some incorporate obsolete designs that are better off being torn down and rebuilt using modern construction methods.

In Hamilton County alone, 24 bridges have been deemed "structurally deficient," and 89 other bridges are functionally obsolete, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. In Bradley County, 13 of its 197 bridges are structurally deficient, and 36 are functionally obsolete.

The problem isn't limited to Tennessee.

Catoosa County has six structurally deficient bridges, and both Whitfield and Walker counties each contain a dozen structurally deficient bridges.

But don't panic just yet, said Nancy Singer, a U.S. Department of Transportation official.

"Structurally bridges are not unsafe," she said. "It means the states are monitoring them, that they're on a list."

The Olgiati Bridge in Chattanooga is on just such a list, said Jennifer Flynn, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. But not because it's structurally deficient - the bridge, which was last updated in 2003, is being widened to cut back on gridlock.

Part of an ongoing $100 million project to widen the road that pumps cars through the heart of Chattanooga, the Olgiati Bridge will add a new lane and shoulder in each direction, once it receives funding in 2015, Flynn said.

Officials are also widening Apison Pike, widening East Brainerd Road, and modifying the I-24 interchange at Broad Street and Market Street, she said.

More federal spending could speed up these and other projects, but that hinges on Republican acceptance of the plan, which would lower corporate taxes in some areas but raise employer costs in other areas.

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6315.