Construction crews are preparing to steer drivers clear of a major route in Cocke County.
Starting April 10th, the historic Wolf Creek Bridge on Route 9 will close for a couple of years. TDOT says the 94-year-old bridge has structural problems that will require extensive rehabilitation.
Map: Detour details
Interstate 40 and Route 9 are the two primary routes from Cocke County into North Carolina. The bridge closure cuts off traffic between Newport and Hot Springs, North Carolina, and leaves the county without one of its main I-40 detours.
"It is a major concern for us because there are rockslides on I-40 and this is the main detour," said Cocke County mayor Vaughn Moore. "If a rockslide shuts down the interstate, traffic will have to bypass our county completely. That will be a tremendous hit to our sales tax revenue and local businesses. This is a terrible liability as far as the county is concerned.
Moore said he wanted TDOT to construct a new bridge beside the existing bridge to keep traffic flowing. However, the existing bridge was built in 1928 and is historically significant.
"This is one of the few bridges like it in the United States," said Moore. "I can appreciate the history of this, but from an economic standpoint we could have spent just another million dollars and have a brand new bridge and keep the historic one for bikes, pedestrians, and recreational use."
Construction is estimated to be complete by March 2014. The bridge not only crosses the French Broad River, but also a set of railroad tracks. That means TDOT will have to coordinate and time construction so that it does not conflict with rail traffic.
TDOT spent the last week repaving Fugate Road for people who live near the bridge to get around the closed bridge. That road is very narrow and only open to local traffic. The local road is also prone to flooding, which could leave some Cocke County residents cut off from emergency services in Tennessee.
"We've been coordinating with Hot Springs and North Carolina to make sure everybody can be reached in case of an emergency," said David Cody, director of emergency management for Cocke County. "There are several families that live on the Hot Springs side of the bridge."
When the repair project is complete, the bridge will be widened from 24 feet to 30 feet to accommodate wider travel lanes and shoulders.
There will be two detours in place for the duration of the project. Truck traffic will be asked to take US 321 from Newport to Greeneville, then continue on State Route 70 into North Carolina. All other passengers can take State Route 107 to State Route 70.