Billion-Dollar Bridge Linking Soddy-Daisy To Harrison Needed, Area Politicians Agree, But May Not Be Affordable

$5 Toll Causes Some To Balk

Thursday, December 23, 2010 - by Judy Frank

A preliminary report on the feasibility of building a $1 billion toll bridge across the Tennessee River from Soddy-Daisy to Harrison – outlined during a meeting this week in Hamilton County ’s courthouse – is getting mixed reviews from area politicians.

Rep. Richard Floyd thinks it’s high time to get on with the project and authorize the estimated $300,000 in state funding needed to collect environmental data and do preliminary mapping.

“If they started building it tomorrow, it would be 2020 before the first car could drive across it,” he noted – and any delay now would push completion still further into the future.

“We don’t have $1 billion to build the bridge,” he added, “but we can come up with $300,000 to take it to the next level . . . We need to pursue this. We’re going to need that bridge.”

Hamilton County Commissioner Fred Skillern, whose district includes Soddy Daisy, is more dubious.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “We all want the bridge . . . but what they’re saying is that there would be a $5 toll for cars and a $7 toll for trucks each time they crossed it . . . Say you’re working at Volkswagen and they’re paying you $17 an hour. You’d have to work 45 minutes just to cover the cost of your tolls to get there and back.”

In contrast, the state estimates that if a similar bridge were built in Memphis, the toll there would only be $1, Commissioner Skillern noted.

The cost is far higher here, the commissioner explained, because in addition to the estimated $152 million to $276 million needed to cover land acquisition and construction costs, the state would have to create the infrastructure needed to support it.

The infrastructure would include roadway interchanges, he said, which are extremely expensive to build.

Rep. Floyd, however, said he thinks it might be possible to fund the bridge without requiring drivers to eventually cover the costs by paying tolls to cross it. One possibility, he said, is creating some kind of public-private partnership to come up with the money.

But even if the toll here winds up being $5 per car per trip, he continued, that would still be cheaper than having to drive the extra miles back and forth every time area residents needed to get from one side of the Tennessee River to the other.

“It’s about 30 miles to the next bridge to the north,” he explained, “and probably about that same distance to the south . . . Gas right now is $3 a gallon. We don’t know what it will be 10 years from now, but it doesn’t look like the price will go down.”

The truth is, Rep. Floyd said, nobody really knows how much the bridge would cost. But that uncertainty should not prevent officials from moving ahead with the project because it is so sorely needed.

Hamilton County residents would not be the only beneficiaries, he stressed. Rhea, Sequatchie and other counties throughout the region also would see benefits.

Local and state officials have been discussing the need for such a bridge since the early 1970s, but the cost was considered prohibitive.

In 2007, however, Tennessee’s General Assembly passed the Tennessee Tollway Act to fund studies of the feasibility of toll bridges in several areas across the state.

At this time, north Hamilton County and Memphis are the only two areas that remain under study, due to public opposition and lack of feasibility in other proposed locations.

Memphis – where projections are cars would be charged $1 tolls – is the only other city where TDOT is still studying the possibility of a toll bridge. Other areas were determined not to be feasible or had too much public opposition, officials said.

Rep. Jim Cobb, Republican from Rhea County, has been spearheading the project. He said $5 per trip might not sound so high by 2018 when the bridge might open.

He was among those taking part in a meeting on the project held at the Hamilton County Courthouse on Wednesday morning.

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