Work on Elk Avenue Bridge begins Monday; Covered Bridge will also be closed to traffic

By Rozella Hardin

   Both, the Elk Avenue Bridge and the Covered Bridge will be officially closed Monday morning for the duration of the rehabilitation of the Elk Avenue Bridge. Preparatory work had begun on the foundation of the Elk Avenue Bridge a couple of weeks ago, but was halted during the Covered Bridge Celebration. Work, which will commence again tomorrow, is expected to be completed in November.
   "We expect the bridge to be open for traffic again around Thanksgiving," said David Ornduff, director of Planning for the City of Elizabethton. Because of the anticipated increase in traffic over the Covered Bridge and the fragile state of the bridge, Ornduff said the decision had been made to close the Covered Bridge to vehicular traffic as well.
   "The steel plates in the floor of the bridge are cracked, and there was a question of whether the Covered Bridge could withstand the increased volume of traffic. After consulting with our engineer, the decision was made to close it during the period that the Elk Avenue Bridge is closed," Ornduff said.
   He said there is a strong possibility that the refurbishing work scheduled for the Covered Bridge can be done at the same time the work on the Elk Avenue Bridge is being done. "It would be good if we could," Ornduff said. The Covered Bridge will remain open for pedestrian traffic.
   The Elk Avenue Bridge is being repaired due to the deteriorated condition of much of the existing concrete structure. The concrete in the deck, arches, abutments and piers will be repaired with modern concrete. Also, the decorative urn bridge railings will be restored.
   According to a Culture Resource Assessment by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the existing modern aluminum street lights will be removed from the bridge and the original concrete lamp posts will be restored. Historically, the lights used gas but it is proposed that they will be electrified. Existing utilities will be relocated to locations that are less conspicuous in order to improve the aesthetic appearance of the bridge.
   The proposed grade of the bridge will be lowered by 2-1/2 inches. The bridge structure itself will remain unchanged, however, the existing 6-inch asphalt overlay will be removed and the existing 12-inch concrete slab base will be scarified. The repaving of the bridge will then be 2-1/2 inches lower than the existing system, which will result in cold-planing and resurfacing for about 20 to 25 feet at each end of the bridge to transition back into the existing street system.
   Also, the assessment specifically notes that the existing concrete bridge rail of urns is not a crash-tested design. To meet federal requirement, the new design will add an open face concrete rail at the curb. The urn spindles will be restored. The proposed cross-section will contain two 12-foot traffic lanes, two 15-foot parking lanes, and two 12-foot sidewalks.
   The Elk Avenue Bridge was erected in 1926 by the Luten Bridge Co., a nationally recognized firm that specialized in concrete arch design. Work by the Luten Bridge Co. in Tennessee dates back to at least 1914. Daniel B. Luten, who owned the Luten Bridge Co., was one of the nation's most influential bridge engineers of the early 20th century.
   He was a tireless promoter of reinforced concrete and a shrewd entrepreneur who established a nationwide network of affiliated contracting companies specializing in his patented reinforced concrete arch bridges. He probably did more than any other single individual to popularize the use of reinforced concrete highway bridges by municipal and county governments. By 1919, Luten claimed to have designed some 17,000 bridges with examples in all but three states.
   The Broad Street Bridge, which is identical to the Elk Avenue Bridge, is also a Luten bridge. The Elk Avenue Bridge contains three spans, each a 78-foot closed spandrel with ribs. While it is typical for most ribbed arches to have only two ribs, due to the substantial width, the bridge contains seven ribs. The delineated extrados of the arch ring form a decorative line above the arch. The bridge has an elaborate railing with urn shaped spindles and lamp posts in the shape of Ionic columns.
   In the late 1990s, the City of Elizabethton began discussing replacing the bridge. In response to local interest in rehabilitating the existing bridge, the current project involves the rehabilitation of the historic structure, not its replacement.
   The rehabilitation work is being done by the Gallatin Bridge Co., and is being funded with a grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation and funds from the City of Elizabethton.
   Traffic will be rerouted to the downtown area off U.S. Highway 19E via Sycamore Street and Broad Street.