Two-and-a-half years of detours and headaches for South Knoxville residents, business owners and commuters will come to an end before the year is out. The Tennessee Department of Transportation says it plans to re-open the historic Henley Street Bridge by Thanksgiving, restoring a critical direct link between Knoxville and its southern neighborhoods in time for the holiday travel season.
“Work has progressed rapidly over the past several months, and we are so pleased to be able to reopen this bridge to traffic before the busy holiday season,” TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said in a written statement. “We realize the hardship this closure has placed on residents, business owners, and travelers. We appreciate the public’s patience as we move towards the total completion of this important rehabilitation.”
Patience has been in short supply at times. The bridge's original re-opening was scheduled for June 30, but flaws discovered in the concrete arches that carry the bridge's weight pushed the estimated completion to February 2014. South Knoxville business owners say commerce has slowed dramatically since the bridge closed in January 2011. And what used to be a straight shot from downtown Knoxville to Chapman Highway now takes a longer and slower path over either the Gay Street bridge or the James White Parkway.
Safety concerns also cropped up during the early phases of construction. Two workers died on-site within five months of each other in 2010 and 2011. The second death halted work for two weeks as TDOT investigated how contractor Britton Bridge implemented jobsite safety protocols.
Even with the delays, the bridge is opening slightly earlier than had been projected. Repairs to the span's concrete arches went faster than officials estimated, sliding the re-open from February 2014 to this November.
Initially, traffic will be limited to one lane in both directions as work continues to finish the restoration. That work will include lighting, bike lanes, pedestrian sidewalks and a gas line that runs under the bridge deck. Detour signs will need to be removed, and some corrective paving will done along Neyland Drive, Moody Avenue and Chapman Highway. TDOT plans call for a completion date of June 3, 2014.