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Building Better Bridges for Tennessee

 

Tennessee Bridges: A Systematic Approach

Tennessee Department of TransportationBridges are not only integral parts of our transportation system; they are some of the most iconic images of our cities and state. For example, the Market Street Bridge in Chattanooga, Henley and Gay Street Bridges in Knoxville, Shelby Street Bridge in Nashville, and I-40/Hernando DeSoto Bridge in Memphis are all structures inherently tied to the images of cities in which they are located.

Tennessee has more than 19,500 bridges. Only nine states have more, and each year, teams of TDOT bridge inspectors comb the state looking at each beam, deck and bridge support on nearly 10,000 of those bridges. We are proud to have a nationally recognized bridge inspection program operated by people dedicated to keeping Tennesseans safe.

It has been three years since the collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the days, weeks and months following the collapse, TDOT began a number of reviews both internally and with the help of the Federal Highway Administration to ensure that we have sound programs and policies in place that could prevent such an incident in Tennessee.

Since 2007, TDOT has initiated projects to repair, replace or rehabilitate nearly 500 bridges in Tennessee at a cost of more than $450 million. Right now across the state work is underway replacing or rehabilitating 138 bridges and 67 more projects are planned in the coming year.  Since 2007, TDOT has reduced the number of structurally deficient bridges in the state by 7%, and keep in mind that as bridges are repaired and replaced, other bridges, due to increasing age, become deficient every year.

We are now in the second year of our Better Bridges program which authorizes bond funds for the repair, rehabilitation or replacement of about 200 structurally deficient bridges. Already over 100 bridge projects in this program are underway with more planned for 2011, including four large projects each costing in excess of $20 million. These include structures like the historic Henley Bridge in Knoxville, which will be stripped to its concrete arch rings and totally rebuilt, and the Highway 109 Bridge spanning the Cumberland River between Sumner and Wilson Counties in middle Tennessee which will be totally replaced. If the third year of the program is approved by the General Assembly, we anticipate completing projects on the remaining 70 or so bridges during the 2011/2012 fiscal year, a full year ahead of the original schedule.

Tennessee’s bridges will always be a priority for TDOT, but much work remains to be done on both the state and local levels. Tennessee is fortunate to have a first-rate bridge program and we must strive to keep it that way. Improvements in materials, construction methods and design can produce a new generation of longer-lasting bridges and we are constantly seeking innovative ways to make improvements. This requires a continuing commitment to research and innovation and an ongoing assessment of funding options for maintaining these important features of state’s landscape.


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