New bill makes it easier for counties to pay for bridge repairs

New bill makes it easier for counties to pay for bridge repairs

Posted:
According to TDOT, there are more than 2,000 bridges that need attention, but paying for repairs has been a real roadblock for many counties. According to TDOT, there are more than 2,000 bridges that need attention, but paying for repairs has been a real roadblock for many counties.

By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

HARRIMAN (WATE) – State lawmakers are making it easier for communities to fix problem bridges.

Every two years, inspectors check and rank the bridges across the state that are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

According to TDOT, there are more than 2,000 bridges that need attention, but paying for repairs has been a real roadblock for many counties. The Rural Bridge Relief Act of 2014 was signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam last week and makes it easier for communities to access state funds to upgrade, repair, and rehabilitate bridges that have fallen into disrepair over the years.

The State Bridge Grant Program has been around for years and paid for these repairs with a 20 percent match from local governments. But the new law reduces that match to just two percent and now many local counties are jumping on the opportunity to make those much needed repairs.

The Poplar Creek bridge in Roane County is rated poor by the state. The Harris family drives it regularly.

"It's definitely older and could use some repair," said Lindsay Harris.

She's happy to hear the bridge could soon get some needed repairs.

"It is good to know there's funding to fix it,:" she said.

Roane County Road Superintendent Dennis Ferguson shares the excitement.

"Roane county's going to be able to save a lot of money over the next couple of years," said Ferguson.

When the bill passed, Ferguson quickly began filling out the paperwork for the two bridges in his district that meet the criteria.

The Poplar Creek bridge and a bridge on Bucker Road are both considered structurally deficient. They are safe to drive but need repairs to bring them up to a good rating.

Repairs that cost thousands of dollars that would get passed to county tax payers.

"When you're looking at 20 percent versus two percent, when you're talking about a bridge that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, so we're going to save over a couple of years probably $100,000," Ferguson said.

According to Rodney Carmichael, the director of the Tennessee County Highway Official Association, there was $9.5 million in the FY13-14 budget for the State Bridge Grant Program. They're expecting a similar amount this year.

He says the bridges that are highest on TDOTs list of structurally deficient bridges are the ones that will receive the grant money.

It's not possible to say how many bridges could be helped because the costs varies greatly from bridge to bridge depending on if it needs repairs or to be fully replaced.

For counties like Roane, the grant money means they don't have to scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to their budget.

"I don't have to take the additional 18 percent out of my asphalt budget to make repairs on a bridge. It's a big saving for us where without it we couldn't do it without it," said Ferguson.

Roane County is the only one planning on taking advantage of the new law.

Anderson County road superintendent Gary Long said they are looking at applying for a grant for bridge work they are doing on Beach Grove Dr. He said they've had trouble coming up with the funds for a 20 percent match.

Blount and Sevier County are also planning on using the funds. They each have one bridge in their counties that is rated poor and would fall under the new Rural Bridge Relief Act of 2014.

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