Construction plans for old bridge raise new safety concerns about detour route

HANCOCK COUNTY, Tenn. - The Tennessee Department of Transportation says the 83-year-old Kyles Ford Bridge in Hancock County, Tenn. is in critical condition. The bridge, which was build in 1928, is one of three bridges in the state is was built as part of the special toll bridge program.

They presented construction plans to the county mayor, Thomas Harrison, last spring. The plans include completely closing the historic bridge and detour traffic on Chestnut Ridge Road. But, the route adds an average of 30 minutes to travel time to get from one side of the bridge to other. Not to mention, Chestnut Ridge Road is a secondary county road which isn't completely paved and is only about 15? wide, which means vehicles have to negotiate around each other.

The director of schools, Mike Antrican, said the detour will add considerable complications to the bus route that affects more than a dozen students. "It's really not a decent detour for a school bus or anything," said Clem Seal, County Road Supervisor. Seal adds that it's also a very dangerous detour in the winter months. "If you have a lot of snow and ice, it would be devastating. We'd have to constantly be on it. There would be constant traffic on it. It would create a problem," Seal said.

It also creates a problem for emergency response crews that would have to detour around the bridge to get to the other side of the county. "Knowing the county the way we do, we know it's not going to be the best plan or route we're going to routed through," explained Allen Davis, the Director of Ambulance Services. Davis said their current response time is more than 30 minutes, it could be more than an hour with the detour.

Residents of the Kyles Ford community agree that works needs to be done on the bridge. However, they don't want to be isolated during the construction process. That's why they're suggesting some alternatives. They'd like to see the new bridge built next to the old bridge or at least a temporary bridge put in place during the construction. TDOT said it wants to start finalizing plans for the project by December. The project could take 12 to 18 months to complete.

But TDOT isn't just worried about the bridge; it's also worried about what's underneath these waters. We learned that this shallow section of the Clinch River is home to more than 35 different species of mussels. That's more than any other place in the world. Because of the rare and threatened aquatic life, TDOT says it can't get into the water to rehabilitate the Kyles Ford Bridge. "This is more important to look out for the benefit of the people versus the aquatic life at this point," Harrison said.

The bridge is only about 20' wide so crews can't keep one lane open during construction. A 2010 traffic study found that about 680 cars drive over that bridge every day.

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