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More Henley Bridge hold-ups frustrate South Knoxville businesses

8:04 PM, Jan 4, 2013   |    comments
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After two years of being closed for construction, TDOT now says parts of the Henley Bridge in downtown Knoxville are in worse condition than originally thought.  Three of the large concrete pier columns originally slated for repairs will now be completely replaced.  

"There are seven piers on the bridge.  The piers in the water are piers three, four, and five.  We knew there was deterioration but thought they could be patched.  Recently the amount of deterioration discovered was to the point that the decision was made to completely replace them," said Mark Nagi, TDOT spokesperson.  "We could have still patched them and that would have probably been good for about 15 to 20 years.  Then the bridge would have been closed again.  With this project, we are really looking to the long-term here."

TDOT wanted to reopen the Henley Bridge by the end of this June.  Now officials do not know when the bridge will be completed or how much the change in plans will add to the project's existing $25 million price tag.

"We should have some of those details in about a week and a half.  The engineers are meeting and reviewing plans to determine exactly how long the project will take and how much it will cost," said Nagi. 

Nagi said the full amount of deterioration to the piers was not detectable until recently.  The bridge was originally completed in 1931 and will now have the piers rebuilt with the same historical appearance.

"This was a bridge that lasted 80 years to begin with.  By replacing the piers themselves, that means we're talking decades and decades down the line before the bridge would then have to be repaired or replaced," said Nagi.

The news of more potential delays to the Henley Bridge project frustrated business owners impacted by its closure. 

Just a couple of blocks south of the Henley Bridge at the Disc Exchange music store, owner John Bevis joked that the recent soundtrack of the store could be "Exile on Main Street" by the Rolling Stones or Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Water."  Whatever the case, the news of holdups on the Henley Bridge has Bevis singing the blues.

"It's frustrating for sure. We've been going for the past few months thinking let's start preparing for June. That's when it's going to open again. Then we might do something like a grand reopening [of the store] to get people's attention again.  Well, that's off the books now," said Bevis.

Bevis said the Disc Exchange has experienced a 20 percent drop in business due to the bridge closure.

"The frustration is too deep to put into words. We're over it. We're over it," said Bevis.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said he may plan more 'cash mobs' to try to promote those small businesses impacted by the bridge closure.

"We originally started the cash mob thing to help those businesses.  There is a real sense of desperation for people in South Knoxville over this bridge closure and there should be," said Burchett.

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