Deadline extended to spring for bridge renovation

By Thomas Wilson

   Forget what the posted sign says.
   Traffic on East Elk Avenue in downtown Elizabethton is expected to be diverted until next spring while the Elk Avenue Bridge is closed for restoration.
   The time frame for the project was initially projected to run from June 9 to Nov. 15 when General Constructors, Inc. won the bid to restore the 77-year-old bridge. David Ornduff, Elizabethton director of Planning and Development, said the bridge needed more extensive restoration than was originally anticipated by the construction firm.
   "When they got into the shell of the bridge, they encountered a lot more problems needing repairs than they anticipated," said Ornduff. "To restore the bridge like it should be, it has taken longer."
   Motorists driving through downtown have been detoured onto Sycamore Street, E Street and Riverside Drive since mid-June when the project began.
   The bridge restoration project is being completed with federal funds administered through the Tennessee Department of Transportation plus matching funds from the city. Ornduff said the extended completion date translated into a bigger price tag for the project. The exact amount would not be known until change orders were submitted by the company.
   The bridge was built in 1926 by the Luten Bridge Co., and was once lit by gas lamps. When completed, replicas of the lamps will again light the bridge but will be powered by electricity.
   In the late 1990s, the City of Elizabethton began discussing replacing the bridge. However, the city responded to local interest to rehabilitate the existing bridge rather than replace it.
   The bridge's unique arch structure will remain unchanged although the proposed grade of the bridge is expected to be lowered slightly.
   John Bunn, president of the Downtown Business Association, says the project has been an inconvenience to downtown business owners, but most realize the project had to be done. He said the Elk Avenue detour moved traffic away from business close to the bridge. That traffic movement also put parking in the downtown area at an even greater premium, said Bunn.
   "The signs detour people before they get to the 600 block," said Bunn. "I think the city is moving as quickly as they can."
   With the holiday season approaching, traffic -- and potential shoppers -- will remain effectively diverted from the downtown area. That could pose a problem for some business owners during retail's most lucrative season.
   Ornduff also said he expected to advertise for bids to refurbish the Covered Bridge within the next two weeks. The city received a grant through TDOT to refurbish that bridge next year. Ornduff said steel slats on the bridge floor would be replaced as would rotted timbers and wood in the bridge's structure. The bridge will also have new interior lighting and mesh wire to prevent pigeons from roosting inside the bridge.
   "Hopefully, it will look like a brand new bridge when we are done," said Ornduff.
   Like the Elk Avenue Bridge, restoration of the Covered Bridge will keep with its historic image and existing structural integrity. That project is budgeted at $122,500 with $24,500 in matching grants coming from the city. The Covered Bridge has also been closed to vehicle traffic since summer.