Nicely joined other state and local officials in Lenoir City last Friday to describe the project and offer a tentative schedule for construction. The project will go to bid in December, and once started, the bridge will take about three years to complete, he said.
The new bridge has been a county-wide priority for at least 10 years, said Lenoir City Mayor Matt Brookshire.
The new span will replace the current 50-year-old two-lane bridge running along the top of the Fort Loudon Dam with a new four-lane bridge a few hundred yards down river, he said.
The Tennessee Valley Authority currently has responsibility for maintaining the bridge over the dam but will not be responsible for maintaining the new bridge, he said.
The location of the new bridge will also improve traffic flow and safety by creating a more direct route onto and off of the bridge, Brookshire said.
"It will cut down on some of the curves that slow traffic," he said.
The project will also upgrade the entrance to Lenoir City with new landscaping and other improvements leading to the intersection of Highways 321 and 11.
"The state is calling this a 'signature intersection,' " he said. "I think it will be a more welcoming entrance to the city."
The bridge project offers economic and safety benefits to Loudon and Blount counties, according to Pat Phillips, president of the Loudon County Economic Development Agency. The increased safety and traffic flow will boost the new residential development around Tellico Lake and could help industrial development on the Blount side of the bridge, he said.
The project came together with the strong support of state, local and federal leaders, including U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., state Sen. Randy McNally and state Reps. Dennis Ferguson and Jimmy Matlock, Phillips said.
Matlock said he was involved in passing legislation in 2009 for the state bridge bond fund that will pay for the project. But the credit for driving the project goes back several generations in local politics, including the work of previous county Mayor George Miller and current county Mayor Doyle Arp, he said.
However, funding does not appear available for a related project to reconstruct the intersection of Highways 321 and 11, Brookshire said. That project would have cost about $34 million, he said.