(WBIR-Knoxville) TDOT has some great news for drivers heading to and from South Knoxville.
One lane in each direction on the Henley Bridge will reopen before Thanksgiving. That's several months ahead of the expected February 2014 date.
The bridge has been closed for major rehabilitation work since January 2011. The work was originally supposed to be completed in June 2013, but was delayed because the deterioration was worse than initially thought.
"We realize the hardship this closure has placed on residents, business owners, and travelers. We appreciate the public's patience as we move towards the total completion of this important rehabilitation," said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer.
TDOT spokesperson Mark Nagi said the agency was able to set a new deadline because contract crews had considerably sped up their work over the last few months.
"One of the things that were going on was that we expected to have some significant arch repairs in spans three and four of the henley bridge," he said. "But, what was discovered was that they didn't really need to have those extensive of repairs. So, that gave us the manpower that was going to be on those arches and [we put them] onto other parts of the bridge."
The rehabilitated Henley Bridge will have a number of new features, including wider sidewalks for pedestrians and bike lanes in each direction.
Once one lane in each direction is reopened, there will still work going on. Crews will be working to complete staining, decorative and street lighting, and a gas line that runs the length of the bridge. The contractor will also have efforts focused on removal of the official detour and sections of paving that will occur on Neyland Drive, Moody Avenue and Chapman Highway.
The entire project is expected to be complete by June 3, 2014.
This was welcome news for local leaders.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said, "TDOT's announcement that the Henley Bridge will open to traffic by Thanksgiving is very good news. The closing has had a negative impact on businesses and commuters, and I appreciate Commissioner Schroer and TDOT's commitment to getting the bridge re-opened as soon as possible."
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett echoed Rogero's thoughts, ""Today's announcement that the Henley Street Bridge will reopen to traffic soon is great news, as the past three years have been extremely difficult for businesses in South Knoxville. This is a good first step toward having normal traffic restored over the bridge. In the meantime, I hope even more Knox County residents will make a point to support South Knoxville businesses."
South Knoxville businesses said they were excited about the news too. The Disc Exchange has lost about a third of its business since the bridge closed in 2011. President Alan Miller said he wasn't expecting lanes to open this quickly.
"I've heard of rumors of it happening and it being ready, but I didn't believe them," he said.
Ron Emery, owner of Emery's 5 & 10 said he was hopeful the news would bring customers back to South Knoxville.
"It's really hurt us in a lot of ways, but a lot of it is really perception," he said. "They closed only one out of four bridges, so it wasn't hard to get out here, but the perception is that it is."
To learn more about the Henley Bridge project from TDOT, click here.