One lane closed each way on I-75 in Loudon for bridge repairs
Traffic backs up on Friday at exit 72 on Interstate 75 northbound as vehicles approach the bridge over
Watts Bar Lake in Loudon County. The interstate between exits 72 and 76 will be reduced from two lanes
to one in both directions until bridge repairs are complete, which is scheduled for Oct. 15.

By Don Jacobs

Drivers can expect continued delays on Interstate 75 in Loudon County as a nearly $2 million maintenance project on the bridge over Watts Bar Lake forces the closure of one lane in each direction.

The project is slated for completion Oct. 15. According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation contract on the job, the only time all lanes must remain open is during the Labor Day holiday.

"Basically, it's been a pretty big mess," said Tennessee Highway Patrol Lt. Jessie Brooks. "We've had backups of three miles or more at certain times."

According to TDOT, about 50,200 vehicles a day pass over the 1,743-foot-long bridge.

"If you're going to Florida or the other Southern states, you have to go that way," Brooks said.

Workers with Jamison Construction LLC on Thursday closed one lane in each direction. Under the TDOT contract, once the McEwen, Tenn.-based company closed a lane, workers must continue to work 24 hours a day to complete the job.

Mark Nagi, TDOT regional spokesman, said TDOT has placed message boards on either end of the project alerting approaching drivers of the project and possible delays.

The $1,994.631.50 contract includes repairing the deck, parapet and expansion joints on each of the two-lane bridges - one span for northbound traffic and one for southbound travelers.

Jamison Construction was the low bidder on the job. Four other bids ranged as high as $2,596,324, according to TDOT.

The bridges are between the Loudon interchange at mile 72 and the Sugar Limb Road interchange at mile 76.

For local southbound drivers trying to avoid the delays, the most viable alternate route is to get off at either of the two interchanges north of the bridge and take U.S. Highway 11 through Loudon. According to the Loudon Police Department, a lot of drivers already know the route.

"It was bumper to bumper through town on Thursday, sometimes a half-mile long," said Mike Newman, assistant police chief in Loudon.

In anticipation of continued high-volume traffic, Newman said Loudon officials on Friday retimed the four traffic lights through town to provide an extra 20-30 seconds of green for drivers on U.S. 11. "Now it should be longer greens going through town," Newman said.