Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer visited the Interstate 75 site Tuesday, as part of his bus tour during which he is visiting each of the four transportation regions of the state and viewing the agency’s major construction projects.
The commissioner said the Exit 20 project will be completed on time despite the threats of a depleted federal transportation trust fund.
Ken Flynn, TDOT Region II director of operations, said Exit 20 is 40 percent complete.
“We’re well underway,” he said of the 1.4 mile, $8 million project.
He said the first stage of the bridge is now completed and there will be a shifting of the traffic within three to four weeks to accommodate the next phase of construction.
“There will be a temporary ramp constructed, traffic will be switched to the new bridge, and then [workers will] start demolition of the old bridge,” Flynn said.
When Flynn mentioned that the completed new bridge will have two lanes in each direction, as well as turn lanes, it prompted state Rep. Kevin Brooks to loudly comment, “Praise the Lord!”
Schroer said two lanes will continue to be open throughout the process.
Flynn said the completion date for the project will be November 15, 2015.
“Part of the problem is maintaining the traffic,” Flynn explained. “If you could just build it, you could cut the [construction time] in half or maybe even two-thirds. But, you have to make sure everybody can still get to where they want to go.”
He said they were basically building two bridges instead of just one.
“You have to build a portion with traffic on it, try to make it flow and build the other half,” Flynn said.
Schroer said the next project will be the Exit 311 interchange about one mile east of U.S. Highway 11.
“TVA is going to relocate the power lines that cross that area. We are working on permits and have set a December bid letting,” Schroer said. “We will be ready to go if money comes.”
He said the federal trust fund will become insolvent within the next month and this “has caused some of the projects we are looking at to be pushed back for letting because we don’t know what’s going to happen funding wise.”
Schroer said there are several plans being floated around Washington, “but it puts us in limbo in a lot of ways.”
“We’re being very careful about what happens and we are in a good cash position to make sure that if the trust fund doesn’t fund us the money we asked for, then we have enough to complete the contracts we have under construction with state funds and what we have available,” he said. “We’re being careful during this time period.”
“To do projects of this magnitude, we have to be prepared for the worst case scenario,” Schroer said. “We’re acting as if the money is in place. We’re getting all the permits. We’re getting everything moving. We’ll be ready, but we’re holding it until we’re sure the money is there.”
He did emphasize that related to Exit 20, “The money is here for this project.”
Schroer said he had gotten a letter Friday from U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx that was one of “gloom and doom.”
“It basically said within 30 to 40 days the trust fund will be insolvent,” Schroer said. “That means we may submit a bill for $3 million and only get $2 million back. We will probably get partial funding.”
He said there are some states that will have to scale back projects because they do not have the ability to fund the shortfall unless they ask the contractor to do that.
“If they scale back, you have to tell the contractor to quit working. There is the matter of remobilization and all sorts of costs,” he said.
Schroer said Tennessee is in “a great position because we don’t have to do that.”
“The thing that makes us that way is we aren’t paying debt service on any of our projects,” he said. “We’re in a great cash position so projects like Exit 20 can continue to be funded without any break in the action.”