UT Project Could Help Save Lives On Natchez Trace

Wednesday, March 20, 2019
The Natchez Trace Bride in Williamson County is an icon of the parkway
The Natchez Trace Bride in Williamson County is an icon of the parkway
- photo by National Park Service
The Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge, a concrete double-arch bridge outside Franklin, famous for its architecture and sweeping views, has gained a reputation in recent years for its use in suicides.

At least 32 people have died after jumping from the bridge, according to the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office. The most recent death occurred on New Year’s Eve in 2018.

Answering a request from Trish Morelo with the Natchez Trace Bridge Barrier Coalition, Jenny Retherford, senior lecturer in UT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, established a senior design project aimed at developing barriers on the bridge.

“Civil engineering, at its core, is all about serving for the betterment of humanity,” Ms.
Retherford said. “What could be more perfect for that than quite literally preventing suicides?”

Ms. Retherford’s team of students face a number of challenges due to the bridge’s location in a national park. Any change to the bridge must conform with park rules mandating design, materials, changes to aesthetics and even the feeling it evokes when viewed. The students are spending the spring semester tackling the project.

Tennessee State Representative Sam Whitson, whose district includes the bridge, introduced legislation aimed at loosening National Park Service rules so the bridge could be altered. That legislation passed through the Tennessee House of Representatives on March 14 and is now headed to the state Senate.

“We are currently performing a lot of research to create a design that will comply with [NPS] guidelines and regulations while also satisfying the coalition’s wishes, so we’re taking it a little slow right now,” said Nancy Abdo, a senior majoring in civil engineering. “Once we settle on a design, we can shift our focus to a more technical engineering scope next semester.”

In addition to Ms. Abdo, the team includes students with concentrations in structures, construction management, transportation and water resources. The students have recruited a team of mentors from the Federal Highway Administration and the Tennessee Department of Transportation who will provide guidance as they move into the technical engineering work.

Ms. Morelo was led to create the Natchez Trace Bridge Barrier Coalition after her son John died at the bridge in January 2016. The people he left behind had seen few warning signs: he was a good student, didn’t miss school and had landed a scholarship to the University of Alabama.

“He had told me he had symptoms of depression, but he’d told me he’d let me know when he was feeling down,” Ms. Morelo said during a visit to UT. “When I woke up that morning and he wasn’t at the house, I knew. I just knew.”

Ms. Morelo learned about the other instances at the bridge, and that the bridge’s design played a role in its grim reputation.

“Barriers are the only way to prevent people from jumping from bridges,” Ms. Morelo said.
UT seniors stand with Trish Morelo, right, co-founder of the Natchez Trace Bridge Coalition
UT seniors stand with Trish Morelo, right, co-founder of the Natchez Trace Bridge Coalition

Collegedale Academy 7th Graders Leave A Legacy At The Collegedale Post Office

Robert L. Berry Named Newest Board Of Directors Member At GNTC

CSO Announces 3rd Annual Kayoko Dan Conducting Scholarship Recipient


Middle school students from Collegedale Academy (formerly known as Collegedale Adventist Middle School) used their efforts and talents to leave a legacy at the Collegedale Post Office. Nearing ... (click for more)

Attorney Robert L. Berry, a senior partner of Brinson Askew Berry, has been sworn in as Georgia Northwestern Technical College’s newest Board of Directors member by Stuart Phillips, interim president ... (click for more)

The Chattanooga Symphony & Opera announce Matthew Gardner as the recipient of its 3rd annual Kayoko Dan Conducting Scholarship. The scholarship will offer Mr. Gardner an opportunity to work ... (click for more)


Student Scene

Collegedale Academy 7th Graders Leave A Legacy At The Collegedale Post Office

Middle school students from Collegedale Academy (formerly known as Collegedale Adventist Middle School) used their efforts and talents to leave a legacy at the Collegedale Post Office. Nearing the end of the of the 2018-19 school year, the seventh-grade class presented a gift to the Collegedale Post office that included elements from their math and art classes which, in the ... (click for more)

Robert L. Berry Named Newest Board Of Directors Member At GNTC

Attorney Robert L. Berry, a senior partner of Brinson Askew Berry, has been sworn in as Georgia Northwestern Technical College’s newest Board of Directors member by Stuart Phillips, interim president of GNTC, at the June meeting held on the Whitfield Murray Campus in Dalton. Mr. Berry has served as a partner for Brinson Askew Berry since 1975. He focuses on medical malpractice, ... (click for more)

Breaking News

City Council Expanding Some Territory For Short Term Vacation Rentals; Approves No-Tax-Increase Budget

City Council members are eyeing changes in the popular short term vacation rental business, including some likely expansion of district boundaries. Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod said one change she is seeking soon is to allow the rentals on the opposite side of Pinewood Lane. She also said at one section of Eastdale there are four residents interested in setting up the rentals. ... (click for more)

Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod Says Black People "Can Come Downtown"; Says BID Has Nothing About "Black Removal"

City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod said Tuesday she is tired of some individuals saying that creation of a Business Improvement District (BID) means black people can't come downtown. She said, "I'm tired of the fact that the plight of black people is being used when it comes to those type conversations." She said, "We can come downtown. There are black people walking downtown ... (click for more)

Opinion

Why I Support Funding The Proposed Budget - And Response

Dear Commissioners of Hamilton County, I attended the District 3 community meeting with Commissioner Greg Martin and School Board Chairman Joe Wingate, who was filling in for District 3 Rep. Joe Smith. Commissioner Martin stated he had not made up his mind on how to vote for the tax increase at that time. He requested thoughtful input on why the citizens of his district wanted ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: VW Needs Big Repairs

The banner headline on Monday morning read, “Gov. Lee, top Republicans celebrate failed UAW bid to unionize Volkswagen,” and that’s the second-worst thing that the headline could have said. The worst, of course, is if the UAW had won, and the Detroit-based union that lost 35,000 members last year would be revived -- breaking a hole into the tight wall of foreign-owned auto assembly ... (click for more)