Report recommends closing Covered Bridge to vehicles

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

ÊÊ  An engineering firm has advised Elizabethton city government officials to permanently close the historic Covered Bridge to vehicle traffic in order to minimize future structural damage.
  In a letter sent to the city's Planning and Development Department last month, Gary Tysinger of Tysinger, Hampton and Partners in Johnson City recommended closing the Covered Bridge to vehicle traffic. Tysinger wrote that vehicles traveling through the bridge creates additional stress on the footplates and causes the bridge to twist. He also believes restoration needed for the bridge will become more frequent if motor vehicle traffic continues and future repairs could require spending more local dollars.
  In his letter, Tysinger also noted existing pedestrian traffic and the bridge's future function as part of the city's Linear Path recreation trail. Mixing pedestrian and vehicle movements created a safety concern, he wrote.
  City Director of Planning and Development, David Ornduff, said Wednesday that since the city owned the bridge, the City Council could prohibit vehicle traffic through ordinance or resolution.
  "As an historical treasure of the community, it may be wise to close the bridge," he said.
  Ornduff said that while the one-way traffic decreased the total amount of vehicles on the bridge, the most recent inspection reports found the bridge had suffered structural damage from the weight of motorist traffic.
  "While there is not as much traffic on it when it was opened for traffic both ways, that much weight over a period of time takes its toll," he said.
  One of only four such bridges remaining in Tennessee, Dr. E.E. Hunter built the Covered Bridge in 1882 at a cost of $3,000 for construction and $300 for approaches. Built when the horse and buggy rolled the dirt roads rather than the SUV, the bridge's total length extends 154 feet over the Doe River.
  The bridge contains one span of a covered wooden Howe Truss measuring 137 feet long. The bridge contains one traffic lane and a single walkway. The substructure is masonry stone and concrete and each end of the bridge features a projecting truncated gabled roofline.
  The Covered Bridge has been closed to vehicle traffic for more than one year. Intech Contracting completed most structural repair work to the bridge last month. The restoration contract was set at $113,300 with a $9,200 contingency for additional repair work. The City Council is expected to consider a change order of $4,722 to fund replacement of a concrete abutment and the lighting system inside the bridge.
  Ornduff said if the city opted for closure, the bridge would be available for use in the event of an emergency requiring public safety vehicles to cross the river.