Knoxville's Henley Bridge reopens to traffic

Knoxville's Henley Bridge reopens to traffic

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One lane in each direction reopened Thursday morning, allowing cars to pass over the bridge for the first time since January 2011. One lane in each direction reopened Thursday morning, allowing cars to pass over the bridge for the first time since January 2011.
The bridge has been closed to traffic since a major rehabilitation project began. The bridge has been closed to traffic since a major rehabilitation project began.
With the celebration, also came protest. The "Bridges to Justice" group gathered along the bridge to welcome the reopening and remember the lives that were lost there. With the celebration, also came protest. The "Bridges to Justice" group gathered along the bridge to welcome the reopening and remember the lives that were lost there.
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KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Henley Bridge in Knoxville reopened to traffic Thursday morning at 12:01 a.m. after being closed to the public for nearly three years.

One lane in each direction is now open, allowing cars to pass over the bridge for the first time since January 2011.

The bridge has been closed to traffic since a major rehabilitation project began.

"I'm delighted. I'm glad they finally got off their cans and got it open," said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. "It's been a long time coming. The people in South Knoxville have been suffering. The business -- the so-called business district -- I mean, you couldn't sling a cat and hit a business down here. And I'm not for slinging cats, of course. But they have just been hit doubly hard down here, with the bridge and the economy."

Burchett led an effort starting in February 2012 to support businesses affected by the bridge closure by promoting cash mobs, organized events to drive traffic to targeted businesses. The effort drew the attention of national media.

South Knoxville businesses were among the first to celebrate the opening just after midnight. 

"We're excited about it being open," said Steve Boyce, owner of Rush's Music. "It is a long time waited. Almost three years now and so many thousand cars. 58,000 cars a day. I cannot tell you how many cars we have missed."

With the celebration, also came protest. The "Bridges to Justice" group gathered along the bridge to welcome the reopening and remember the lives that were lost there.

"We are here to honor the memory of John Womac who was killed on this bridge in January 2011 and Solin Estrada Jimenez who lost his life here in May of 2011," said Fran Ansley with Bridges to Justice.

The group is a worker-community alliance fighting to improve safety and working conditions on Tennessee's bridges. Even though the bridge is open they say their work is not over.

"In many ways it's just getting started," said John Stewart with Bridges to Justice. "We're looking ahead now. What are the lessons learned on this project? How can we make all projects safer than they are now?"

During the final stages of construction only one lane of the bridge will be open in both directions and some additional temporary closures should be expected. The project is expected to be completed by June 3, 2014.

The project was originally scheduled to be complete in June 2013, but the project was delayed after further deterioration within the bridge's concrete piers was discovered.

Additional delays happened after the deaths of two workers in separate incidents. A major contractor in the project, Britton Bridge LLC, was cited and fined by the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration for safety violations following the accidental deaths.

There will still be lane closures on Henley Bridge restricting traffic to one travel lane in each direction as crews complete staining, decorative and street lighting, and a gas line that runs the length of the bridge.

The contractor will also focus on removing the official detour and paving sections of Neyland Drive, Moody Avenue, and Chapman Highway.

The entire project is expected to be complete by June 3, 2014.

6 News Reporter DREW GARDNER contributed to this report.

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