Maybe it was the holiday season or the rainy cold, but there were a lot of red noses among the 100-or-so people who gathered Dec. 21 for the official opening of the new pedestrian bridge over the U.S. 129 Bypass.
The group walked across the bridge en masse after Alcoa Mayor Don Mull cut a ribbon of Alcoa High School maroon and silver shortly after 5 p.m.
Mull said the bridge has been a project that the city has worked on for several years, but it wasn’t until federal stimulus money became available that it could be completed. “The stimulus money was certainly the thing that made the bridge happen and without that, there would not be a bridge,” he said.
Mull said there have been a lot of negative comments about the bridge, but he sees it as a strong addition to the greenway system. “I’ve had several calls with people commenting on how great the bridge is, and I believe over the years it will become an icon for the city and for its usefulness in connecting both sides of city,” he said. “By the time we get the greenway over to Louisville Road, people will see the effect a greenway system has for this side of town.”
The negative comments have dealt primarily when people question the cost, not always understanding that the stimulus money had to be used for specific projects and could not be diverted to other needs, Mull said. Others have complained that the trails the bridge will connect are not yet completed.
“I think the positive will outshine the negative, and I’m proud of it,” Mull said. “It turned out better than I imagined. The engineering and construction of it are fabulous.”
The bridge will allow foot and bicycle access from the Maryville-Alcoa Greenway on one side of the heavily-used highway to a new section of paved pathway that will serve residents on the other side. Among the subdivisions now connected to the greenway are Andover, Green Meadow and St. Ives, where Gray and Brenda Reavis, who proudly declared themselves the “first Alcoans” to cross the bridge, live.
They were preceded by bicyclist Frankie Woody of Maryville, who had called the Alcoa city administration and asked to be the first to ride across.
Robert W. Bowers, vice president of Wilbur Smith Associates, the firm that engineered the structure, said Tuesday, Dec. 22, was a “historic day.”
The $1.6 million bridge is 225 feet long and has concrete ramps on both ends to accommodate walkers, bikers and those in wheelchairs. It was paid for by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the federal stimulus package.
The bridge will also serve as a visual landmark with a backlit sign on each side saying “City of Alcoa.”
The concept for the bridge was developed prior to 2005, but skyrocketing construction material costs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina easily outstripped the original cost estimate for the project. But federal stimulus funds that were made available following the economic collapse of 2008 made the bridge possible.