'Signature' bridge over Ocoee River taking shape in Polk County, Tennessee

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Contractor Charles Blalock and Sons, Inc. contiunes on the State Route-40 (US-64) bridge over the Ocoee River on June 4, 2021. The contractor is working on foundations for the new bridge and relocation of utilities Brief intermittent lane closures are possible Monday through Friday 8 AM to 5:30 PM to allow for utility work and moving equipment/supplies.

Whitewater enthusiasts and others heading east on U.S. Highway 64 toward the Ocoee River and Cherokee National Forest in Polk County, Tennessee, can see the state's $12.6 million "signature" bridge as the new span takes shape alongside its aging predecessor.

It's possible some drivers have never noticed the Ocoee flowing beneath them when they motored over it in the past, but that won't be the case when the new bridge is finished in 2022 as an official gateway entry into the Appalachian Mountains' southern jewel, the Ocoee River Gorge.

"The contractor has a bridge crew on site, working on foundations for the new bridge piers, and they are constructing forms for those piers," Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesperson Jennifer Flynn said Monday. "The roadway has been graded on the west side of the river, and the subcontractors are on site relocating utilities on the east side of the river to accommodate the new alignment in that area."

After the utility work is done, earth-moving work will resume on the east wide of the project, Flynn said.

Since the new bridge is being constructed next to the old one, drivers passing the work now can see some portions of the new bridge structure that have already been poured, including the first abutment and pier footer. All of the steel girders for the new structure have been fabricated but have not yet been delivered to the project site, she said.

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

Its replacement is a three-span, 600-foot-long steel I-beam structure that 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.

What sets the bridge apart from most others is this new span will feature 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.

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.

More Info

There are three phases in the project.> Phase 1 includes the 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 intersections at 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.>Source: TDOT

One of the project's nearest neighbors, Ocoee Dam Deli & Diner owner Michelle Gorman, said it hasn't interfered with her business so far and the work appears to progressing.

"It seems like they're making some steady progress, and it hasn't affected us at all," Gorman said just before the lunch hour was starting up Monday.

She said members of the construction crews patronize hers and other area eateries, noting business has been up for all commercial operations in the area with the seasonal surge.

In the days and weeks ahead, the bridge crews will continue work on the pier No. 1 and No. 2 and a second abutment, Flynn said.

"Once this is complete, the steel girders will be delivered and installed over the river," she said. "This will require closing the river to all recreational traffic for a short time."

There is not yet a date for that work or closure.

While pier and abutment work takes place, grading crews will complete work on the roadway approaches to the new bridge, she said.

"We hope to complete construction of the new bridge over the coming fall and winter and shift traffic to the new bridge in spring 2022," Flynn said. "Once that is done, work will begin on the demolition of the old bridge."

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, according to TDOT. There will be no need for detours.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter.


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