U.S. Highway 129 in Alcoa might as well be the Continental Divide for all but the most intrepid - or foolish - of pedestrians.
The highway, parts of which carry more traffic than any other noninterstate roadway in the state, according to past traffic studies, essentially divides the city in two, and few dare to cross it in anything short of a quick set of wheels.
But that is about to change, as a 225-foot-long pedestrian bridge nears completion, eventually allowing people to walk or bike from one side of the U.S. Highway 129 Bypass to the other high above the zipping cars and lumbering trucks.
The steel superstructure of the pedestrian bridge will be set atop concrete supports Sunday, requiring the closing of the Bypass from 4 a.m. until the job is finished, according to Alcoa officials.
Traffic will be diverted around the site during that period.
Andrew Sonner, assistant director/chief engineer for the Alcoa Public Works & Engineering Department, said the bridge, which will open for use some time in December, will be a mixed-use structure for bicyclists and pedestrians.
After the metal framework is set in place Sunday, concrete decking will be poured into it in coming weeks.
“Highway 129 is a barrier like a river,” Sonner said, “and the only way to cross safely is a grade-separation crossing,” meaning a passage that goes either over or under the highway.
The $1.6 million cost of the pedestrian bridge comes from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the stimulus package.
The project is one of three the city of Alcoa was able to get stimulus money for, Sonner said, the other two being the paving of two roads and a traffic signal coordination project with the city of Maryville.
But the pedestrian bridge will be the most visible.
The bridge was conceived prior to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, Sonner said, but in the wake of that devastating storm, construction materials and costs skyrocketed, outstripping the $1 million grant - 80 percent federal, 20 percent local - that was expected to pay for the bridge.
So it got shelved, he said. But because the design work had already been done, the bridge was a shovel-ready project, making it eligible for stimulus funds, 100 percent of which come from the federal government.
The bridge will connect the Alcoa Greenway near the city’s Municipal Building on Associates Boulevard to a 1.5-mile greenway extension to be built on the other side of the highway through the subdivisions of Green Meadow, Andover, the North Linden community and St. Ives.
Sonner said there had been demand from residents of that side of the city for such a pedestrian connector.
“If we want to connect all our citizens,” he said, “here’s how to do it.”
The Bay family, who live on the west side of the bypass, cannot wait to use the bridge.
“We are just thrilled,” said Kim Bay. “We have two children, and we bike as a family. My husband is also a runner.”
Jeff Bay is an associate professor of statistics at Maryville College, and the bridge will allow him to bicycle to work without ever having to get on a roadway, she said. He can stay on the greenway.
“We’re glad the city took the initiative,” Kim Bay said, “and had the project ready.”
The bridge is being fabricated by Contech Bridge Solutions of Fort Payne, Ala., and will be delivered later this week in four sections. The sections will be bolted together in two pieces on each side of the highway.
Then, Sonner said, two large cranes will lift the halves onto concrete supports and be bolted to each other.
The bridge will go over a stretch of highway that accommodates 35,653 vehicles a day on average, he said. That comes to one vehicle every 2.42 seconds in a 24-hour day, less time that it would take a walking pedestrian to cross one lane of the highway.
Kenny Wiggins, Alcoa’s director of engineering and public works, said the ramps to the pedestrian bridge will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including the correct grade and level rest stops on the way to the top. The only motorized vehicles allowed will be wheelchairs, Wiggins said.
Bell & Associates is constructing the bridge, and the design came from Wilbur Smith Engineers and Ross Fowler Architects.
During Sunday’s placement of the superstructure, southbound Highway 129 traffic will be diverted onto Hall Road at the split, then onto Bessemer Street and back to the highway at Middlesettlements Road. Northbound traffic will be detoured west onto Louisville Road to Hunt Road and back to the highway north of the split.
It is estimated the highway will reopen by 2 p.m.