Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

Drivers around town have already started to feel the effects of the town bridge project, although the real work isn’t set to begin for another month. Over the last few weeks, traffic crossing town bridge has been reduced to one lane at times, while utilities in and around the bridge are relocated.

Mitchell Bishop with the North Carolina Department of Transportation said that after the utilities are relocated to the other side of the bridge, traffic will be detoured completely to the downstream side of the bridge. Traffic will then be two-way while the other side of the bridge is completely demolished and entirely rebuilt.

Traffic heading east on Palmer Street will be directed to turn left onto the Depot Street extension, then right on NE Main Street which had previously been a one-way stretch, then split off back to a four lane at the Highlands Road intersection. Traffic heading west on NE Main Street will be directed into one lane instead of two to accommodate the eastbound traffic being diverted from Palmer Street.

According to Bishop, the traffic detour will start in about a month and will last through to the project’s completion date, which is scheduled to be July 15, 2018.

Franklin’s town bridge was constructed in 1931 and with little maintenance work done over the last 85 years, the bridge has continued to deteriorate. After the NCDOT deemed the structure to be deficient, funding was allocated from the state for repairs. Structurally deficient bridges have load carrying components in poor condition due to deterioration. These bridges are safe. However, they require significant maintenance to remain in service, and limits on vehicle weights may be needed. To fully address the issues on a structurally deficient bridge, extensive rehabilitation or replacement is usually required.

Natural gas lines were rerouted this spring from under the Little Tennessee River to US 441 to prevent punctures while crews work on the new bridge.  Duke Energy has completed the relocation power lines around the project area and Frontier Communications and Morris Broadband have also relocated their lines that crossed the area.

Once completed, the new bridge will be similar to the current structure, but will feature larger lanes and a multi use path connecting the two sides of the Little Tennessee Greenway. Town officials approved the design of the multi-use path, which will be both bicycle and pedestrian friendly and will feature a divider between the path and traffic lanes. Once the entire project is completed, construction is expected to cost around $2.2 million.