Contractor launches work on new bridge at Fort Loudoun Dam

By Don Jacobs

Drivers next week should see those bright orange barrels in Lenoir City signaling work on a $69.3 million project to widen U.S. Highway 321 and build new bridges at the Fort Loudoun Dam.

"I'd say we'll be wide open by the second or third week of August," said Chad Woodroof, project manager with Charles Blalock and Sons, Inc.

More than 60 people gathered Tuesday for a couple hours at the Tennessee Department of Transportation Region 1 headquarters to discuss nuances of the project that is slated for completion May 31, 2015. Those participating represented the contractor, TDOT, utility companies, material vendors, TVA, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and officials from Lenoir City.

The project includes widening U.S. 321 from two to four lanes from its intersection with U.S. Highway 11 to its new path. The new highway will diverge toward the Tennessee River roughly at the sharp curve where Elm Hill Road meets the highway.

Woodroof said his workers will begin the project by grading and widening the two-lane road. That work includes a new, four-lane bridge over the Norfolk Southern railway tracks that run under U.S. Highway 321.

After workers grade the new route, utility companies will be tasked with moving cables and pipes onto a new right of way.

Woodroof said he hopes "by this time next year" to have the widening of U.S. Highway 321 and a new bridge over the railroad completed. Then Blalock and Sons crews will concentrate on the new, four-lane bridge about 2,000 feet downstream from Fort Loudoun Dam.

Woodroof said access to TVA facilities downstream from the dam will be maintained during the work.

Dale Hurst, city administrator for Lenoir City, said he is concerned about traffic snarls and the impact on businesses as the work gets under way.

"That's the biggest intersection in the county," Hurst said. "I'm a little concerned, but I know this is an important project."