Cities at Odds: Closed bridge needs fixes, but who is responsible?

(Photo: WKRN)

MILLERSVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Millersville residents who live on Shiloh Road are angry, and some are scared, because of a bridge that’s been closed for almost nine months with no time table for its reopening.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation closed the bridge in August 2015 after it was determined 1950s bridge was unsafe.

It crosses Mansker Creek, connecting Tinnin Road in Davidson County to Old Shiloh Road in Millersville.

“The bridge was closed after the last routine inspection, which was performed on August 5, 2015. This inspection found numerous problems,” explained BJ Doughty with TDOT.

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

“The most serious problems were the extensive corrosion to the steel beams and the scour undermining abutment No. 1. These problems, on top of the all the other ones, pushed the decision to close the bridge,” she continued.

Doughty noted the extension bridge is almost beyond repair, and since no one was claiming the structure, maintenance neglected it for many years, leading to its current state of advanced deterioration.

“However, if the old bridge is removed and replaced with a new structure, then certainly the route can be re-opened,” she told News 2.

When the bridge closed, nearby residents say it dramatically changed how they live.

“It takes us at least 30 minutes to get out to get where we need to go,” said Glenda McKenzie.

She and her husband, Lemuel McKenzie, have been married for 61 years and have lived on Old Shiloh Road for the last 38.

They say it’s not only a major inconvenience, but the road closure has caused great stress for the family since Glenda’s 84-year-old husband has come into bad health.

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

“It is terrible for us. All of us in this area. There are sick and elderly people who have a lot of health problems. I had to take him to the ER twice in the last two months. I’m afraid he will die before I can get him out to the hospital. He passed out on me; he could have died right here,” she explained to News 2.

The Millersville fire chief said the closure causes extreme problems for emergency responders.

Thomas King said, “It puts these lives in jeopardy here. With fire calls, it is real time; you are trying to save lives and property. This bridge can help save lives, but having no bridge here, we have to come from the other end of the city and it endangers lives and our property more.”

The chief also says potential delays puts residents in danger and firefighters who may have to wait for back up while fighting a fire.

“It is response based. They come from homes and different places, and what happens is someone gets here quicker, and those first are in jeopardy because they are faster and they have no back up. It hurts our guys; it hurts everyone,” King explained.

When told that Metro and Millersville have been talking about who pays for the bridge for months, he said this, “Please fix the bridge. Take away the politics. Think about who is affected. For me, it is about lives and people and property. It will take someone dying, and then we’ll talk, and everyone will start pointing fingers.”

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

To demonstrate how long it takes to get into the neighborhood with the bridge out, News 2 drove from Tinnin Road in Davidson County.

To get to the other side of the bridge in Millersville, we had to drive 10 miles and it took almost 17 minutes.

So what’s the hold up?

TDOT has agreed to pay 80 percent of the bridge repair. Millersville has asked Metro-Nashville to split the other 20 percent.

So far, Metro refuses to pay, saying the bridge is private and no public funds should be spent repairing it.

TDOT bridge experts disagree with Metro engineers, telling News 2 the Old Shiloh Bridge is, and has been, a public structure.

According to Terry Leatherwood at TDOT, “I think that it is pretty clear that this is a public bridge. Metro-Nashville argued that it was located on private property and was a private bridge, but the City of Millersville had a survey performed that found it to be on public right-of-way. So, the position of the TDOT Bridge Inspection Office is that it is a public bridge.”

On October 5 2015, Metro Public Works interim director Mark Macy wrote this to the Millersville City manager:

We have considered the proposal from Millersville and cannot accept. The funds being proposed are state funds allocated to Davidson County that we have committed on another bridge. I want to reiterate, this road is not on Metro’s list of maintained roads and is considered private. We have sent letters to Millersville, TDOT and residents in 2004 and 2007 point out this matter. Metro cannot spend public funds on this bridge without the Metro Council approving actions and it is our opinion the Metro Council Will not approve using these funds to fix/replace the bridge.

When pressed for details, Metro Public Works spokeswoman Kennetha Price answered specific questions:

1. What is the status of the bridge from Metro’s point of view? We are under the impression that Millersville is working with TDOT to replace.

2. Does Metro still consider the bridge private? This bridge is not a Metro-owned or Metro-maintained bridge.

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

3. City manager Caryn Miller accuses metro of negotiating in bad faith, not taking the issue to city council. Is that true? Has it been brought before city council? Who decided not to proceed and why? MPW had many discussions with TDOT and Millersville including reviewing estimates for replacement, etc. No options were off the table as parties worked toward a direction forward.

4. When did the dispute begin that the bridge is private? About 9 years ago, we notified the City of Millersville and the resident that the bridge was not within Davidson County Right-of-way and was not built to public road standards. Also, that its current condition, based on TDOT evaluation, could not sustain certain loads of traffic.

5. Police chief says emergency response significantly delayed into that community? What’s your Response? Not sure how this would delay Sumner Co from responding.

6. TDOT ultimately will decide whether the bridge is private. Letters in my possession from TDOT indicate it is a public structure. Response? Going back as far as 2004, we notified parties that there is no documentation that this bridge had been built to public road standards, nor had it ever been accepted for maintenance by the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. Nevertheless, MPW worked with Millersville, TDOT, and others on best options for the bridge. We are pleased the bridge was accepted into the TDOT/federal aid bridge replacement program because ultimately, and as TDOT has determined, this bridge is a vital transportation link.

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

Caryn Miller, the Millersville city manager, says she is very concerned for the safety of residents and she has spent many months trying to resolve this impasse with Metro Public Works.

“Emergency vehicles can’t get there fast enough. We have old people here with medical issues. They are scared for their welfare. Right now my hands are tied. TDOT will provide the funding, they started the study, then the contract will come and we are back to square one because Metro won’t cooperate.
I don’t know what to do; the city is committed to fixing the bridge one way or another. Our citizens depend on it, Metro citizens depend on it; it is crucial get this bridge fixed.

Millers says she has reached out to Nashville Mayor Megan Barry regarding the issue and has not heard back.

“I would say let’s sit down and get something resolved. I’m getting nothing from public works. Come on, this is ridiculous. Because of politics, people are suffering.”

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