The county has apparently reached an agreement with officials of the Tennessee Department of Transportation to help enforce weight limits on Hurricane bridge by escorting across large trucks, fire engines, school buses, and other vehicles carrying heavy loads.
County Mayor Mike Foster, during an all-committees meeting with members of the county commission Tuesday night at the courthouse, said this issue would be discussed during Monday night's regular monthly meeting of the commission and he will ask that the plan be approved.
Under the proposal, Foster says the county would appropriate around $20,000 to hire at least a couple of people with experience in law enforcement or traffic control who would work a forty hour week, monitoring traffic across Hurricane bridge. These officers would be responsible for making sure that no more than one large truck passes over the bridge at a time.
Foster says this would ease concerns about public safety and keep industries from having to detour through Alexandria or Dale Ridge Road to access the Interstate.
According to Foster, he met with officials of TDOT and the Tennessee Highway Patrol earlier this month at his office to discuss the plan and he says they have given their approval. If accepted by the county commission, Foster says the proposal could be implemented as early as next month, subject to a few more details being worked out with TDOT.
"TDOT has told us in the meeting we had a week ago Friday that if we will escort the trucks across and make sure that there's no more than one big truck on the bridge at a time, the factories can haul up to 72,000 pounds. That will be a big help and save them from having to go around (detour). It will save them a couple a hundred dollars a load. Their (TDOT) engineering report says that the bridge doesn't need to have more than 72,000 pounds on it at a time. They've got it restricted to 18 tons, but that's only if a truck is crossing from each direction. As long as we keep only one truck on it then they feel like it's safe to go up to 72,000 pounds."
Foster says TDOT officials liked the escort idea better than posting traffic lights on either end of the bridge. "They felt like the lights were not as safe as this and would cause more problems."
The escorts would not be provided around the clock, but Foster says arrangements could be made for after hours if needed. "It won't be twenty four hours a day. Right now it'll be 40 hours a week and if there is a special need then we can do that. We'll try to work out something with law enforcement so that kids going on school bus trips (such as basketball tournaments) can be escorted across the bridge for the safety of them going and coming."
He added that fire trucks might also need an occasional escort. " On Christmas eve, there was a fire on the other side of the lake. They (fire fighters) went all the way around (detoured). We've got it worked out now so they can escort that truck across by blocking the ends (of the bridge) to keep more than one truck from getting on the bridge at a time. That way they can cross it and it will be legal."
Foster says the persons hired to do the escorts would not necessarily have to be active law enforcement officers "They could probably be non-commissioned officers, not necessarily post certified, but someone with a law enforcement background or experience in traffic control. It could be like a constable or someone possibly supervised by the sheriff's department."
According to Foster, this is probably the best solution to the problem until TDOT begins rehab work on Hurricane bridge, and no date has yet been set for that. "It will help our industries, provide for the safety of our school buses, and help fire firefighters and ambulances. It's a small price for us to pay."
At a public meeting hosted by State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver and State Senator Mae Beavers in November, Ed Wasserman, TDOT Director of Structures, addressed the safety issue regarding Hurricane bridge and the timetable for getting it repaired. "With regard to the Hurricane bridge, if you observe the postings that are on it, then the bridge is perfectly safe. As to the scheduling of things, these are very expensive structures, we have a limited overall amount of money to deal with statewide. While you have every right to be concerned and feel that your bridge is the top priority in the state, there are people in other areas in the state with a bridge in similar condition and they feel theirs needs to be top priority. We are going to keep your bridges safe until such time as they get repaired or replaced on whatever schedule that works out to be. If the revenue stream continues, then we're going to be able to get to your bridge. But with the Hurricane bridge, it will be repaired because there's not any chance that we can afford to replace that bridge."
Wasserman said that Hurricane bridge had not deteriorated to the point that it would have to be closed and added that the state would spend funds to do emergency repairs to keep it open if need be.