TDOT Negotiating for Right of Way Acquisition in New Sligo Bridge Project

The Tennessee Department of Transportation had hoped to have the new Sligo bridge project ready for bid letting by now but plans have been held up due to negotiations with the Corps of Engineers over right of way acquisition.
Although the Corps of Engineers is the only property owner involved, TDOT apparently has to take into consideration concerns of the Corps’ lessee, Sligo Marina, which is located next to Sligo bridge.
TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges, in a telephone interview with WJLE Thursday, said some of those concerns remain sticking points in the negotiations. “The Corps of Engineers has leased this property to a lessee (Sligo Marina). They’re wanting to be paid for some things. In particular, he (lessee) wants to be paid for some potential loss of business due to loss of some of his parking and the impact of construction. Under state law in Tennessee, we (TDOT) are prohibited from paying those types of damages. So since we’re kind of in a disagreement,” said Degges.
“We’re building a new bridge adjacent to the old bridge and to be able to do that we need the real estate to put the bridge on,” said Degges. ” In this case, the real estate is owned by the Corps of Engineers. That is the sole property owner that we’re dealing with. In this particular case, it’s not the foot print of the bridge per se that’s the issue but we need enough room to actually build the bridge. That’s where the issue has arisen. The Corps of Engineers has leased property to the Sligo Marina for their use in operating the marina as a business enterprise. As we have been going through the development of this project and the design of the bridge, one of the major issues that we’ve had to deal with from a right of way standpoint has to do with constructability of the bridge. Where do I put a crane to hang beams and things of that nature? For us to get access into the site, we’ll have a pretty significant impact on the area that the marina uses for parking,” said Degges.
TDOT can resort to imminent domain proceedings when a settlement cannot be reached. But in this situation, Degges said condemnation may not be an option. ” Our process is, and this is all in state law, that for any typical project we do an appraisal. We make an offer and if the property owner thinks it’s a fair price then we buy the property. If they don’t think that the price is fair, it goes to the attorney general’s office for condemnation. Probably about 75% of the property we buy in a given year, we negotiate and people negotiate with us. About 25% of what we buy goes through the condemnation proceedings. There’s nothing bad about condemnation. It’s just that’s the process used to make sure that people have the ability to feel that they’re getting the appropriate value for their real estate. In this particular case, since the property is owned by the Corps of Engineers, the United States government has sovereign immunity over the state of Tennessee. In other words, we cannot condemn the federal government. So since we’re kind of in a disagreement, the question is can we condemn the property? The Corps of Engineers has determined that we cannot condemn their lessee. So that’s kind of got us in a situation here. Not only is the project contingent on us getting the right of way, but the Corps of Engineers also issues us water quality permits. So we can’t finish up the permitting process nor can we get the right of way to actually build the project until the issue is resolved.
Degges said he is optimistic that an agreement can be reached soon so that the project can go forward. “We had a meeting with the Corps of Engineers, the attorney general, and Sligo Marina and their legal counsel earlier this month to try to resolve the issue. We are going ahead and finishing up our appraisal and we are going to provide the marina with what we feel is a fair offer under state law that we can provide to them. We are optimistic it will work out and that we will be able to move on with the project. This right of way issue is the only thing holding us up from going to contract. The permits are contingent on it but the new bridge is designed. We have everything ready to go except for this little piece of it. We feel it can be worked out but it is not a resolved issue at this point. We want to do everything we can to make sure that the marina continues to operate. But the marina is concerned that all the construction activity and impacts of the parking lot is going to have an impact on their ability to do business and that is the issue we’re trying to negotiate through right now. Our goal is to work with the lessee and the Corps of Engineers to try to come up with an amicable solution that allows us to deliver the project,” said Degges.
The Sligo project, which was funded in the 2011-12 state budget, calls for replacement of the existing overhead truss bridge which is structurally deficient and functionally obsolete. The new bridge will be located a few feet to the north of the existing bridge, which will remain open to traffic during construction. The new bridge will be a continuous welded plate girder design with a composite concrete deck slab and will be 1,545 feet in length. The project typical section is two-12 foot lanes with 10 foot shoulders. The total project length including bridge and approaches is approximately 0.8 mile. The total estimated cost of the project including engineering, right of way, and construction is $31-million.
“We’re going to build what we call a steel plate girder bridge with a concrete deck,” said Degges. ” Right now, the bridge is a truss. The truss has quite a bit of age on it. I believe it’s right at 80 years old. The steel of that vintage, when it starts to deteriorate, deteriorates pretty fast. So its time for us to put a new bridge in there. The bridge is somewhat narrow. The new bridge we’re going to put in here will have twelve foot lanes and ten foot shoulders. It will be what most people would consider a traditional bridge in that the beams of this bridge will be under the deck. One of the challenges here is that the water is over one hundred feet deep at this location which makes the construction of the bridge somewhat more challenging. Just think about trying to pour concrete one hundred feet under water. Its a pretty tough proposition. We don’t have a whole lot of that type of work in Tennessee, but we do have some. We’ll build the new bridge adjacent to the existing bridge. It’s a vital artery for this part of the state of Tennessee. DeKalb County is very interested in this project. This county is split by the river and transportation is a key component of the economy there. So we want to make sure we get this bridge replaced before we have to do any additional repair work to the bridge,” added Degges.

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