The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced Monday morning that the Henley Bridge will reopen to traffic on Feb. 28, 2014.
TDOT Commissioner John Schroer gave an update on the progress of the bridge project during a morning news conference in Downtown Knoxville.
Schroer said he expects the project to be fully completed by June 30, 2014.
Construction has closed the 80-year old Henley Bridge for the past two years.
Officials initially expected the project to be completed on June 30, 2013, but construction crews recently found that three of the large concrete pier columns need to be replaced.
Schroer said crews could not discover the deteriorating piers until its
concrete was chipped away.
Crews found that not only was the concrete deteriorating, but
the steel inside the concrete was as well.
TDOT considered two options to fix this issue. The first option was to remove the lower portion of the pier and replace it with steel. TDOT said this would delay the project until the fall of 2015.
Schroer said the department decided to go with the second option: go inside the piers to make repairs. Steel will connect the new and old concrete reinforcing the piers.
The additional work needed on the piers added another $6 million to the project. In the end, the Henley Bridge Project will come with a $32 million dollar price tag. TDOT estimates this recent construction project will add another 50 years to the bridge's life.
"We feel confident that we have examined every option available to us to move the project forward safely and efficiently," said Schroer. "The decision to rebuild the piers will ultimately save time, and will result in a longer life for the Henley Bridge."
Schroer said he understands the new timeline will add more hardships to the businesses and residents in South Knoxville.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said she's disappointed by the delay.
"I am extremely disappointed that the Henley Bridge opening will be delayed, and I continue to be very concerned about the impact on Chapman Highway businesses and South Knoxville residents," Mayor Rogero said in a news release. "I appreciate Commissioner Schroer's meeting with me and Mayor Burchett to explain why this delay is necessary."
To expedite the process and keep the timeline on schedule, Schroer said the contractor, Britton Bridge, will bring in extra workers.
Schroer said safety is a top concern for TDOT. He said the contractor holds daily safety meetings, a TDOT safety consultant checks the construction monthly, and the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development conducts random assessments of the work site as well.
(Jan. 4, 2013) 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,"
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.