Work on $12.6 million 'signature' Ocoee gateway bridge project in Polk County starts this week

Photo contributed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation / The U.S. Highway 64 bridge replacement project location and project limits are shown in this TDOT aerial map of the area. The project is slated for completion May 30, 2022.

In a couple of years, travelers headed east on U.S. Highway 64 in Polk County, Tennessee, will get their first glimpse of the world-renowned Ocoee River from a new $12.6 million "signature bridge" that will create an official entry into all the Cherokee National Forest and Ocoee River Gorge have to offer.

"The project is a signature bridge that is meant to be a gateway to the Ocoee region," Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesperson Jennifer Flynn said.

The design-build team for the project consists of contractor Charles Blalock and Sons Inc. and designer Volkert, Inc., Flynn said Tuesday.

The new bridge is scheduled for completion by May 20, 2022, with a price tag of $12.6 million, according to TDOT.

For a driver, it's easy to miss the Ocoee River flowing beneath the current Highway 64 bridge a couple of miles west of the Cherokee National Forest. Most motorists' heads are filled with visions of the whitewater torrent of the Ocoee and national forest as they approach the Appalachian Mountains looming ahead.

But with the new span, which will be constructed on a new alignment alongside the old bridge, they'll see the Ocoee River emblem, rock finishes, an aesthetic bridge rail and lighting that will highlight travelers' entrance into the Ocoee River Gorge and Parksville and Ocoee lakes, officials said.

photo Rendering contributed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation / This rendering by the Tennessee Department of Transportation shows what the final design of the replacement bridge over the Ocoee River on U.S. Highway 64 in Polk County, Tenn., could look like when completed. TDOT officials say the contractor, Charles Blalock and Sons Inc., will create the final design under its contract.

Kip Gilliam, owner of Cascade Outdoors and a former president of the Ocoee River Outfitters Association west of the bridge, doesn't believe access to nearby businesses will be affected much by the construction project and doubts his customers will find it a problem.

"I think they're building the replacement bridge before they take out the old bridge, and that should keep traffic flowing pretty well," Gilliam said Tuesday. "People come up here to go rafting, they don't worry about the architecture."

Gilliam said he saw survey crews at the project site last week and on Tuesday he could see the first work crews.

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"There's some backhoes, a TDOT dump truck, some surveyors - there's a little bit of action," Gilliam said, describing what he saw as he passed the first day's activities.

The existing bridge is a 546-foot long, six-span concrete T-beam bridge with two 12-foot wide lanes, one in each direction, and one-foot-wide shoulders, according to TDOT. The old bridge was built in 1937 and is showing structural deterioration.

The replacement is a three-span, 600-foot long steel I-beam structure. It will have two, 12-foot-wide travel lanes, one in each direction, and 10-foot wide shoulders. A dedicated center turn lane is planned for the widened approaches. Crews also will adjust the bridge's alignment and approach between Hildebrand Road to the west and Welcome Valley Road to the east, officials said.

Phase 1 of the project will include construction of the new bridge on the new alignment and construction of new roadway approaches and side road tie-ins. Phase 2 will consist of reconstruction of Welcome Valley Road and Hildebrand Road at the tie-in locations, shifting traffic to the new bridge and removal of the existing approaches to the old bridge. Phase 3 will include final paving, striping and installation of signs, removal of the old bridge and construction of a maintenance road on the old piece of highway remaining after the bridge is removed, according to TDOT.

Officials said two travel lanes will be open throughout the project with the exception of short-term lane closures to install the concrete spans and for demolition of the old bridge. There will be no need for detours, according to TDOT.

During construction, work crews will probably add to the lunch business at nearby eateries.

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Michelle Gorman, owner of the Ocoee Dam Deli & Diner within sight of the project, said a road-widening project was underway along the same piece of Highway 64 12 years ago when the business first opened.

Workers on that project came in back then, but Gorman said the business was so new she couldn't judge the impact of the construction disruption and the gains from hungry construction workers.

"We're happy to have them. I think some of them were in here today," Gorman said, adding she'd have no problems with the work as long as her business wasn't blocked off.

"As far as we know, we're not being affected so it's not been a big concern," she said.

According to Flynn, the bridge and approaches will be designed to accommodate a future four-lane expansion. Work at the intersection of Hildebrand Road and Highway 64 will be minimal and the intersection at Welcome Valley Road will be realigned to intersect Highway 64 at a 90-degree angle, improving safety over the skewed angle that exists now.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at


Transportation projects are developed in four phases: planning and environmental, design, right-of-way and construction. To speed the project up, the U.S. 64 bridge replacement project will be completed under a “design-build” contract, a project delivery method that combines all or some portions of the design and construction phases of a project into a single contract.Request for qualifications for design-build: September 2018Shortlist of qualifying design-build teams: January 2019Issue request for proposal for design-build: April 2019Review of technical/pricing proposals: October 2019Design-build contract awarded: Nov. 18, 2019Construction activities begin: Sept. 8, 2020Estimated completion date: May 2022Source: Tennessee Department of Transportation