Licklog Hollow Road bridge deterioriates

Jun. 06, 2013 @ 11:52 PM

Steel beams help level the bridge that connects folks who use Licklog Hollow Road to Jones Cove Road. One of the supports has sunk into the east fork of the Little Pigeon River, which the bridge crosses. Cracks run from one side of the road to the other on either side.

The one-lane bridge is the only connection to any main road for the dozens of people who live on Licklog Hollow or the other roads that branch off it. They say the county has promised to fix the bridge for several years, and they’re concerned that it’s deteriorating. County officials say the bridge, while deteriorating, is still safe to use and that they’re in the final stages of the process to get state funds and state approval for a new one.

The bridge and road are owned by the county, but the state inspects them. In its last full inspection, the state rated the 71-foot bridge’s condition as poor, and found it was structurally deficient. The rating means the bridge has suffered advanced deterioration, but none have reached the point that inspectors believe it must be closed or contantly monitored for safety.

The last full inspection of the bridge was in 2011, but TDOT staff has performed cursory inspection a number of times since then and found there were no signs of further settling at the support that appears to be sinking into the river bed.

The inspector recommended repairing the substructure, providing stronger bearing for one beam and repairing the decks. The inspection also suggests repairing the walls, adding guardrails to the road approaching the bridge, and adding a sign warning that a one-lane bridge is ahead.

The county has bought land for right of way to straighten the road and build a new, two-lane bridge alongside the existing one. But neighbors like Cathy Dronen and James Kayon are getting impatient after waiting for more than a year to see the work start.

“More of it gets swept away after every rain,” Dronen said, pointing to pieces of concrete in the cracks. They are concerned about the steel beams used to keep the bridge level, and about a support underneath that has sunk.

They both said the bridge seems to sway as people drive over it after a heavy rain. "I know it’s moving, I just don’t know how soon before it moves into the creek,” Kayon said.

Kayon noted the bridge has been rated to hold no more than three tons — down from its original tonnage — and that already means that many delivery truck drivers won’t cross it.

Dronen sold the county some of the property they will use for the new bridge several years ago. She said she doesn’t understand why it’s taking so long.

The people living in the neighborhood weren’t bothered by having a one-lane bridge, she said, but they started getting worried when they noticed the cracks. They started paying more attention to the work that had previously been done to the bridge, too, including the beams that were keeping it level.

County Road Superintendent Jonas Smelcer said he’s aware of the concerns. While the bridge is showing new signs of deterioration, some of the issues have existed for years. For example, he estimated the beams used to keep it level have been there for 40 years.

Still, he acknowledges the inspections have confirmed the bridge needs major repairs or replacement. The county has submitted the designs for the new bridge to the state, but plans have been sent back several times to address concerns with hydraulics and other issues.

“That’s been a problem, getting that through and approved,” he said.

However, he noted, that’s hardly unusual when dealing with plans for a bridge, even a relatively small one. They have to be reviewed by a number of state and federal agencies, which may evaluate their impact on the waterway and the environment — sometimes with differing standards.

“Sometimes you have to wait about four years, so we’re in the ball park,” he said.

VISION Engineering is overseeing the design and shepherding the plans through that process. Sevier County Office Manager Rod McCarter said the Licklog Hollow Bridge appears to be set for approval.

“We’re down to the final review of the state right now. They have a few minor comments.”

Once that’s done, Smelcer noted they’ve been obtaining state funds, and setting aside county funds, so construction could start fairly soon.

“We have saved money to do this,” he said.

n jfarrell@themountainpress.com