published Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

TDOT to close Marion bridge Jan. 9

Tennessee Department of Transportation engineer Ken Flynn watches workmen Tuesday at the Marion Memorial Bridge replacement project in Guild, Tenn. The existing bridge will be closed Jan. 9 to motorists while the new bridge is scheduled to open in 2014.
Tennessee Department of Transportation engineer Ken Flynn watches workmen Tuesday at the Marion Memorial Bridge replacement project in Guild, Tenn. The existing bridge will be closed Jan. 9 to motorists while the new bridge is scheduled to open in 2014.
Photo by Alex Washburn.

HALETOWN, Tenn. -- A stiff, 41-degree sleet-filled wind blasted workers Tuesday at the $21.5 million Marion Memorial Bridge replacement project.

A dozen or so men were working beneath the 82-year-old structure on U.S. Highway 41 at the Tennessee River.

Although Tennessee Department of Transportation officials initially intended for the old bridge to remain open while the replacement was built, a couple of problems will force TDOT to close the 1929-era span on Jan. 9, probably for good, officials said Tuesday.

Surprises will delay the project's finish about six months, according to TDOT regional construction manager Ken Flynn. He said the original completion date of August 2013 was bumped to a new finish date of February 2014.

MARION MEMORIAL BRIDGE

* 1929: Year built

* 1966: Reconstructed (for change in water level with completion of Nickajack Dam)

* $488,848: Project cost

* 20 feet: Lane width (no shoulders)

* 1,870 feet: Bridge length

* 2,250: Average daily traffic 2009

* 57 feet: Vertical navigation clearance

NEW BRIDGE

* March 23, 2011: Construction start

* February 2014: Project completion

* $21.5 million: Project cost

* 50 feet: Lane and shoulder width

* 1,883 feet: Bridge length

* 60 feet: Vertical navigation clearance

Source: Tennessee Department of Transportation, Britton Bridge LLC and historicbridges.org

As work progressed on construction of the new bridge's piers, crews discovered that they must dig deeper for a sounder construction surface to support footings for some of the piers, Flynn said.

Crews must excavate, drill and blast to construct the new piers alongside the old bridge, so TDOT engineers decided it would be safer for motorists and crews working below the old span to close it indefinitely, he said.

"We'll be drilling and blasting within 30 feet of the existing structure, so we don't want to take any chances," Flynn said.

Crews now are building the seven piers for the span, which will join Haletown to the Jasper side of the river.

Jennifer Flynn, Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman and the wife of Ken Flynn, said the new bridge will look similar to Interstate 24's spans across the river less than a mile away.

The bridge's closure will force nearby residents to detour as much as 1 1/2 miles around the old bridge, she said. Signs will be posted.

The old truss-style bridge -- built as a toll bridge -- is being replaced because of its aging steel structure and narrow lanes, officials said. The work started in March to build a replacement more than twice the original's width, though less than 20 feet longer.

Over the years, efforts to preserve the old bridge fell short because upkeep was so expensive and no one showed any interest, according to officials. The old bridge was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

In 2000, TDOT officials estimated that turning the bridge into a pedestrian walkway would cost $1.6 million for a timber deck or $1.9 million for a concrete deck. In 2011, the same work would cost an estimated $3 million to $3.5 million, and annual maintenance costs were estimated to be more than $125,000, officials said.

Nathan Holth, author and webmaster of historicbridges.org, said the Marion Memorial Bridge is Tennessee's largest Parker truss-style bridge. The two center segments are examples of Charles H. Parker's design that's more complicated but lighter without compromising strength.

Holth's research through state archives on the old bridge describes its early history and how it evolved with changes on the river.

After the bridge was finished, the state around 1931 renamed the route between Jasper and Chattanooga Will Cummings Highway, U.S. Highway 41, Holth said. In the 1960s, TVA began work to replace the aging Hales Bar Dam with today's Nickajack Dam. The move caused the water level to rise and forced the state to raise the bridge to its current height to maintain 57 feet of clearance, according to Holth.

Some local folks lament the loss of the bridge, but most agree it's just too narrow for most traffic.

Local resident Roger Lane said back in July that he'd been driving across the old bridge for 33 years and knew folks in the community would miss it for its place in history.

But "as far as driving it, there ain't nobody going to miss it," Lane said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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