‘Drainage structure alignment’ issue causes second delay in SR-91 project

Published 5:30 pm Wednesday, October 18, 2023

By Lynn J. Richardson

It has been six months since the Tennessee Department of Transportation ran into a snag in the ongoing road construction to widen East Elk Avenue in Elizabethton.

Now a second unexpected issue is causing further problems.

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In late April, work crews discovered “an issue that has to be dealt with,” TDOT spokesperson, Mark Nagi told the Elizabethton Star.

That “issue” was the discovery that the sidewalk along the south side of Elk Avenue at the intersection of East Elk and North Roan Street was on top of a 4’x4’ box culvert — a box pipe used to carry rainwater from the curb drains along the roadway.

That unwelcome surprise brought work to a halt.

Now it appears that TDOT has encountered a second unexpected issue that has further complicated the project.

According to Mark Nagi, the Region 1 Community Relations Officer for TDOT, the problem was detected on Friday, September 29, when the contractor attempted to set one of the new drainage structures.

“They found that the structures did not line up as anticipated,” Nagi said. “In order

to achieve a properly working storm system, we would need to modify our design.”

Nagi said TDOT Operations immediately began reviewing the situation and evaluating options.

“On Monday, October 2, TDOT Design was notified of the situation and provided with a few options to evaluate,” he explained.  “Unfortunately, the design modification that was necessary resulted in a conflict with existing sanitary sewer pipes.”

TDOT Utilities was brought into the conversation to help resolve the sewer conflict, and on Wednesday, October 4, TDOT Operations met with the City of Elizabethton to evaluate the site and discuss potential options.

“The City of Elizabethton immediately began evaluating a few relocation options,” Nagi said.  “After continued conversations and evaluations by TDOT Design teams, a final modification detail was provided to TDOT Operations on Wednesday, October 11.

“The detail and the modified plan were immediately presented to the contractor to begin planning work,” Nagi said. “The contractor was able to schedule crews to begin working on the modified plan by Friday, October 13, 2023, and was beginning to work on structure install and modifications today, Monday, October 16.

Nagi said TDOT began active negotiations with the contractor as they proceed with the work, and had requested a sewer relocation detail from the City of Elizabethton.

According to Jonathan Pleasant, Water Resources General Manager for the City of Elizabethton, TDOT is now in possession of that requested relocation detail.

“We had to use our engineers to provide the design and get revisions,” Pleasant said. “We received a draft from them on Monday, asked for revisions which we had back by noon and we had the detail to TDOT by close of business on Monday.”

According to Pleasant, the modification will entail installing one entirely new manhole and relocating three others, and one of the sewer lines will have to be relocated. The relocation, he said, is due to changes TDOT had to make to the box culvert.

However, he added, even with the needed changes and the resulting delays, the project and these alterations are still included in the original funding.

“With underground utilities, there was no mapping, no records, so there is always a level of unpredictability you have to deal with,” Pleasant said. “This is one of those instances.”

Although Nagi said he doesn’t have any information to provide on the completion schedule, he said the relocation work will require several structures to be obtained from a precast facility.

“We are still hopeful to complete the majority of the work by the end of the year, but we are anticipating the potential for some of  the minor finishing items (final pavement markings) to be pushed off till spring due to temperature requirements.”

The City is eager to complete the project SR-91, says Assistant City Manager Logan Engle, as another important street project is on hold until it is done.

“As soon as this is completed, we will begin discussions with our paving contractors to begin planning for the paving of G Street,” Engle said. “We can’t move forward on that until we have SR-91 finished.”

 The SR-91 project has been at least eight years in the making. The Elizabethton Star first reported plans for the project in its September 22, 2014 edition, saying Fall 2017 would be the “earliest” residents might see construction begin.

 The project started five years later, in Spring 2022, bringing about some major changes. That included the demolition of many structures in the 200 and 300 blocks to make way for wider lanes and a turning lane on the heavily traveled thoroughfare.