The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department will cease "flagging" operations at Hurricane Bridge beginning January 1st due to a new TDOT requirement.
Since April 15th, the sheriff's department has posted a "flagger" on each end of the bridge to monitor traffic across the bridge, which has state posted weight limits. The county commission authorized the "flaggers" last January and appropriated the funds to pay for it with the understanding that the county would apply for state grant funds to help recoup the costs.
At the time, County Mayor Mike Foster said posting "flaggers" at the bridge would help school buses, fire trucks, and industries with heavy loads get across the bridge without violating the state's posted weight limits of 10 tons for a straight truck and 18 tons for a semi. Flaggers were to be posted there Mondays through Fridays from 7:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.
On November 29th, the county received a notice from TDOT commissioner Gerald Nicely about a new training requirement for TDOT, the result of the Federal Highway Administration's updated regulations for work zone safety.
According to Sheriff Patrick Ray, the new requirement states that all uniformed law enforcement officers who work on a TDOT project shall have training from a Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certified police training academy within the state of Tennessee. Furthermore, these officers must have an additional four hours of FHWA approved work zone training by December 31st, 2010. The "flaggers" being used by the sheriff's department at Hurricane bridge are part- time employees, who are not POST certified. "This is not something that the county commission, the county mayor, or myself has done", said Sheriff Ray. "This is a requirement from Nashville from the Tennessee Department of Transportation."
"TDOT has revised it's requirements for the use of law enforcement in the highway safety work zones. This will become effective on December 31st. This is a new requirement that is a result of the federal highway administration's work zone safety. What we have to do is, if we have officers down there, they have to be full time law enforcement officers that has the training from the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) in Nashville. Without that training they will not be able to do any of the flagging work at the bridge. If we use our regular deputies or certified deputies that are on shifts, those deputies would have to be taken off the road in order to go down there and do that (flagging) or the county would have to pay overtime fees to those deputies for doing that so I don't think that would be cost efficient for the county or us. So on January 1st, 2011 the weight restrictions on the bridge will go back to what they are and there will be nobody there to flag traffic. We will not be able to send officers down there to stop traffic on the bridge or let any kind of semi- truck, including loaded school buses, to go across the bridge. Any vehicle that's overweight will have to take an alternate route."
Sheriff Ray said since April the "flaggers" have been working at the bridge, but there have been occasions when they could not work due to poor weather conditions or times when the state's solar powered flashing road signs could not function. "Some of the requirements at the bridge that we have had to adhere to are if the weather is bad, such as during heavy rain or ice and snow, then we're prohibited by the state from flagging during those times. Also within the last thirty days we've had trouble with the solar powered signs. If the sun is not shining then the signs will not power up so we're having to get our local TDOT people to go to Cookeville to get a generator that's big enough to come back and charge those batteries. This week, there's not been anybody there (flaggers at the bridge) because of either the weather or the signs. We're still having problems with the signs. We'll get back to it (flagging) just as quick as TDOT can get to us. They've been busy with the road work trying to get it done."
Construction is expected to begin soon on Hurricane bridge.
TDOT opened bids on the project October 29th and the low bidder was OCCI, Incorporated of Fulton, Missouri with a bid of $26.9 million. The contract was officially awarded to OCCI.
TDOT spokesperson Jennifer Flynn said last month that "it's not yet known when construction will begin but OCCI has until October 31st, 2013 to complete the project. "It will take about a month to get all the paper work done. As soon as that happens, then the contractor will hold the pre-construction conference where representatives from the contractor's office and TDOT representatives from the construction field office, the regional construction office, and any utilities that might be involved on the project, will meet at a pre-construction conference and determine how the work is going to be done and how they will approach the job. As soon as that is done, they can get to work on the project. The completion date for this project is on or before October 31st, 2013. "