Elk Avenue Bridge restoration won't disrupt festival

By Thomas Wilson


   Restoration of the Elk Avenue Bridge will not disrupt the Covered Bridge celebration as was previously feared by city officials.
   However, the construction project -- expected to last five months -- could become a traffic and logistics headache for city officials.
   "It will mean complete closure of the bridge," said Charles Stahl, Elizabethton city manager.
   The firm contracted to refurbish the bridge, General Constructors, Inc. had originally planned to start construction on Thursday. City officials felt that timetable could have effectively encumbered the city's annual Covered Bridge Festival scheduled for June 4-8.
   However, company president William H. Rodgers advised city administration in a letter this week that restoration work on the bridge would not begin until June 9. The construction time frame for the project will now extend from June 9, 2003 to November 15 -- a daunting prospect given the amount of traffic on East Elk Avenue near the county courthouse and justice center buildings, Stahl said.
   "It is going to require significant advanced signage to keep motorists aware of the alternate route," he said. "You don't want someone turning on East Elk Avenue from (Highway) 19E and getting frustrated because they can't cross the bridge."
   The bridge restoration project is being completed with federal funding plus a 10 percent match in funds of $200,000 from the city. Those dollars were included in the 2003 fiscal year budget. The bridge restoration project is being managed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
   In his letter, Rodgers also requested permission to use the public parking lot on Riverside Drive near the Elk Avenue bridge as a staging area for the firm's equipment. The council voted 5-1 to allow the company to use the parking lot. Councilman Pat "Red" Bowers voted no.
   In other business, the council voted 6-0 with Mayor Sam LaPorte absent to approve appropriating $22,375 to install guard rails along a portion of Gap Creek Road and West G Street.
   The council also approved by 6-0 an ordinance granting the city's Board of Zoning Appeals authority to hear appeals from property owners regarding driveway and street curb cuts.
   State Rep. Jerome Cochran, R-Johnson City, also appeared at the council meeting to present a resolution by the Tennessee General Assembly honoring the late Diane Morris for her public service as a city council member. The resolution was accepted by Morris's mother, Nannie Morris.