Chattanooga to replace aging Wilcox Bridge with $25 million federal grant

Chattanooga is getting $25 million from the federal government to replace the Wilcox Boulevard Bridge, a 70-year-old structure spanning the Norfolk Southern DeButts Railyard that city officials say can no longer support large emergency vehicles or semi-trailers.

The project is one of 166 initiatives supported this year by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability & Equity Grant Programwhich received funding from President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“For years, the deterioration of the Wilcox Boulevard Bridge, where we stand today, has reduced access to essential services for some of Chattanooga’s most vulnerable neighborhoods and limited access point to one of our region’s most critical national freight assets: the Norfolk Southern DeButts Railyard,” State Representative Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, said at a news conference Friday. “The historic investment to replace and improve the bridge will shape the future of not only neighboring communities in East Chattanooga, but the entire region.”

City transportation engineer Katie Snyder said the project has an estimated price tag of $54.5 million. Of that amount, $25 million will come from the grant, $10 million each from the city and Norfolk Southern, $5 million from the Tennessee Department of Transportation and $500,000 from Hamilton County. The rest will come from other local and federal funding sources available for transportation.

Snyder said officials aim to announce the construction project in late 2025.

“We have a lot of work to do before we can start turning the dirt,” Snyder said. “We have to go through environmental clearance; we have to get our design fully coordinated with the railroad, with the city, with the state. So it will take some time.”

Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said the city needed to limit the weight of the bridge after an inspection last year, which he said had an immediate impact on tens of thousands of people in the area.

Kelly said semi-trucks can no longer use the bridge to access local businesses, city buses have to find an alternate route, and the Chattanooga Fire Department can’t dispatch a fully loaded fire truck. through the structure, adding several minutes to response times. for some residents.

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Wilcox Bridge

“A few years from now, if we don’t act quickly, we’re going to have to completely close that bridge to all vehicles, which is quite frankly unthinkable,” Kelly said. “With the awarding of the $25 million RAISE grant we are celebrating today, we have the opportunity to design and build a new solution.”

Chattanooga Fire Chief Phil Hyman said the impact on emergency response times can range from seconds to minutes depending on location.

“In this type of business, seconds matter, so for us a few seconds difference has a huge impact on response times,” he said.

Snyder said officials plan to build the new bridge next to the existing structure so they can maintain some lanes of traffic for most of the construction process.

According to a city press release, the new bridge will be designed to modern standards for structural integrity and will support buses, emergency vehicles, increased vehicular traffic and multimodal freight for future economic activity. in East Chattanooga.

The new four-lane bridge will include the addition of a 12 1/2-foot shared-use pathway, which will ultimately provide access to the Tennessee Riverwalk through a new pedestrian and bicycle connection the city plans to develop in the coming years .

“This will help transform this part of town, adding access to one of our city’s greatest amenities, while improving pedestrian safety and restoring our first responders’ ability to reach an emergency quickly. “, said Kelly. “This bridge may not be as beautiful or sexy as some others we like to celebrate in Chattanooga, but it is no less important.

“This is a big deal, and I must say that this transformational project would not be possible at all without the leadership of President Biden and the bipartisan coalition that recently passed the infrastructure legislation that funded this historic investment of $25 million in infrastructure in our community.”

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure package was passed in November 2021, largely along party lines. Although a handful of Republicans supported him in Congress, none were from Tennessee or Georgia.

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.