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Staff photo by Doug Strickland / a collapsed portion of U.S. Highway 41 between Haletown in Marion County and Tiftonia in Hamilton County on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, near Chattanooga, Tenn. TDOT has constructed a temporary one-lane road with traffic signals to bypass the collapsed portion of road.

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U.S. 41 repair contract

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has awarded an almost $16.5 million contract for work to repair and stabilize four different slide areas on U.S. Highway 41 between Riverside and Guild, also known as Haletown, in Marion County.

The stretch where the project will happen has been the site of almost continuous landslides and collapses for decades, and movement on the slopes of Aetna Mountain has left the highway a cracked, broken mess that crews have been struggling to keep open since December.

Bids on the repair project were opened May 10, TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said via email Thursday.

"The low bidder was Dement Construction Company LLC and the bid was $16,479,135.45. The contract was officially awarded [Wednesday] afternoon," Flynn said. Talley Construction was the next lowest bidder at about $17 million.

"They will be working to repair and stabilize four different sites between log miles 25.20 and 26.40," she said, referring to an area of Highway 41 on upper northern slope of Aetna Mountain above the Tennessee River.

"The project length is 1.2 miles and the estimated completion time is Oct. 15, 2019," Flynn said.

Crews had worked on repairs through January but record-setting rains in February combined with ongoing underground water problems at the site to cause further sliding and collapses at four locations.

By April, TDOT officials decided against a quick fix and started seeking a longer-term solution.

The Aetna Mountain piece of Highway 41 has a long history as an undulating maintenance nightmare for motorists and TDOT.

Many folks who live on Aetna Mountain figure it'll keep winning its battle against a straight, flat road. Randall Sullivan, whose family's history there harks back to 1929 recalled the recent history of the road in a 2013 interview with the Times Free Press at his bait and tackle shop. At the time, the highway bridge over the Tennessee River was under construction as a toll bridge and there were no interstates.

In 2013, TDOT launched an ambitious, $909,000 "soil-nailing" project that used long, hollow tubes as long as 50 feet grouted into place to stabilize parts of a 2-mile section of the highway between the current project site and Guild.

Since then, there have been periodic repair projects to fix problems. Then in mid-December 2018, TDOT started work again after a major slide started at the site where the current work sites are and a one-lane, signaled detour persists.

There's no set start date, but work will begin soon, Flynn said.

"The next steps in the process will be to execute the official contract between TDOT and Dement, after which we will hold a preconstruction conference," she said. "After the preconstruction conference is held, the contractor can go to work."

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

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