After more than two years since construction began, the new Sligo bridge is now completed.
Traffic was shifted from the old bridge to the new one at 12:33 p.m. Saturday. County Mayor Tim Stribling and the local media were present for the occasion. TDOT will have an official ribbon cutting later in the year.
"We've been working on this bridge project since May, 2013 and we've finally got the bridge to the condition where it's completed. We have turned traffic across the new bridge and the new alignment on State Route 26 (Highway 70)," said Larry Langford, Operations Technician for the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
"It's been a long time coming. There's a lot of history with the old bridge and people hate to see it go but with progress we sometimes have to do things differently. The old bridge has been a part of DeKalb County for years but it's time to make improvements to keep people safer and allow traffic to flow better by cutting out a curve or two. People will eventually get used to this and there will be history with the new bridge," said County Mayor Stribling.
Although actual construction of the bridge is finished, Langford said work remains to be done including bridge painting and asphalt grade adjustments on each end. Motorists are urged to exercise caution in traveling the bridge while this work is being done. "The bridge is actually complete. All we have to do is some painting. We have to paint the piers and columns and we still have to paint the railing. The top of the rail and the traffic face will get painted white and the remainder of the bridge will be painted a mountain gray. We can't paint the railing until we get our paving done. We still have to do some grade work on each end of the bridge and we have to do our final coat of topping on our paving. Of course we still have to do our paved shoulders. Hopefully that will take place within the next two to three months," he said.
Preparations for demolition of the old Sligo bridge are expected to begin as early as this week.
"Hopefully we'll start the demolition of the old bridge Monday. They won't be actually blasting it down Monday but they will start doing some preparation. A lot of stuff has to happen before they start to shoot the bridge down or a portion of it down. When they shoot it down, if they do it like bridges I have seen done in the past, they will take the concrete deck off it first and they'll even possibly take some of the floor beams out of it to where it is still structurally sound but anything they can take out without it being in the water, naturally they want to do that. But they will shoot it up kind of in pieces and when it falls in the water then they have to retrieve it out. They will put the pieces on barges and ship it out for waste or scrap metal," said Langford.
A portion of the concrete piers supporting the old bridge will also be removed. "They will shoot the piers down into the water but not all the way to the bottom of the lake. The Corps will do a final sonar of the bottom of the lake and anything (piers) that is above elevation 600 feet (mean sea level) has to be removed. The water today (Saturday) is around 637 (MSL) elevation so the concrete piers will actually remain in the water. They won't shoot them out all the way to the bottom of the lake," Langford continued.
Since the bridge has a new road alignment on the Sparta side, Langford said the old alignment will be closed to the public however utility companies will have access through a gate to service existing electric and telephone poles and lines there. And the public will no longer be allowed to park on the side of the road and walk down to the rock quarry to swim. "We have no parking signs posted on both sides of the road and the access of going down to the swimming area that people have used for years is being cut off. There will not be any more access down there to it," said Langford.
The road alignment on the Smithville side will also change somewhat including the access to Sligo Marina. "When we get completely done with the new alignment going down to the marina it will actually kind of go over against the bluff. We've not got it constructed yet but eventually when we get it complete it will go over against the bluff and that sharp curve won't be near as bad and there will be some parking (area) on top (for the marina) when we get that completed. There's still a lot of work yet to do cosmetically on that side. It will change a whole lot in the next couple of months," Langford said.
Once the work is completed and the cranes and barges are removed from the lake via Highland Trail Boat Ramp near Riverwatch, the state will have a new 20 foot wide concrete boat ramp built there and the parking area will be expanded and paved. The state will also have the county road repaved from the boat ramp to Highway 70. The county will be responsible for having the boat ramp parking area striped according to Corps standards.
Work began on the new $39.2 million Sligo bridge on May 23, 2013. The contractor is Massman Construction Company, Incorporated of Kansas City, Missouri. The completion date under the contract is June 30, 2016 but according to Langford, the project should be finished by the end of this year.