'Bridge to nowhere' sits near second rural overpass


Some are calling a perplexing public road project in White County a "bridge to nowhere." They can't figure out why it's there or where it leads. But it is connected to some interesting property you also paid for.

Business at Jose's Market in White County has taken a beating.

"Possibly 25 to 30 percent," owner Jose Lopez said.

All of it is because of a Tennessee Department of Transportation project that has caused a detour for a year and a half.

"It was supposed to be right there, and it was changed to the other spot," Lopez said. "Why? Now that I don't know."

In fact, not many know why a second overpass is going up, so close to another, over Tennessee Highway 111.

The overpasses are less than a half mile apart, with a rocky ridge on one side and an open, sometimes swampy field on the other.

The state says the idea goes back to the late 1970s when local leaders wanted a way to link two state roads, Highway 111 and State Route 135. The easiest option, they said, was to add ramps to the existing overpass.

"That was our initial thought. Why don't we come in and build some ramps? It would be relatively cheap, no structures to build," said TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges. "Turns out there's sinkholes all over the place on the project."

And the cost to work around them amounted to $8 million to $25 million.

"We ended up moving the interchange to the north," Degges said.

It moved north to some property that makes this story more interesting.

The state bought seven parcels in all. In some cases, they were so small they were measured in square feet.

One land owner got $4,000 to sell 4 square feet.

The state bought a little more than an acre from Brock Hill, former executive of nearby Cumberland County and now a deputy commissioner at the Department of Environment and Conservation.

He didn't get a fortune at just less than $7,000.

"I was unaware there was anyone on this that had a connection until your story started talking about it," Degges said.

Another $24,000 went to the Rogers Group for a rocky 5.6 acre ridge. And the Rogers Group got something else, too. It was awarded the state contract when it won the low bid to build a new interchange.

"We bought their mountain, now we're paying them to blast it and haul it away?" asked Channel 4 I-Team's Demetria Kalodimos.

"To be able to get this interchange to tie in safely, we had to move Old State Route 42 over far enough so we could have safe movements," Degges said. "You don't want on and off ramps so close to that road so it could cause a safety problem."

The state says it is not unusual for construction companies to own land near highway projects.

Records show Rogers bought a parcel in 1995 just three miles or so from its existing Sparta quarry. And that would be helpful when you are hauling rock and getting paid by the quantity moved around.

"We bid a project on estimated quantities and we pay on actual quantities," Degges said.

"If they run into getting rid of more rock than they anticipated, then we pay more?" Kalodimos asked.

"Yes," Degges said.

"Is that the case yet, do we know?" Kalodimos asked.

"I'm not aware of that," Degges said.

TDOT also couldn't tell us whether Rogers used other subcontractors to help with that hauling.

It wouldn't be likely, considering rock is the company's backbone.

Rogers Group told Channel 4 by email that it preferred TDOT answer all questions for this story.

Back down the road, the blasting is done and traffic is moving again, but Lopez can't wait until regulars don't have to drive out of their way for arguably the best pizza in town.

"I'm counting the days, the hours, the minutes," Lopez said.

Wednesday afternoon, TDOT released some cost figures on the rock work.

Rogers Group has made more than $855,000 on rock removal and hauled off 10,000 tons more than it estimated. That is about $30,000 so far in unforeseen cost.

The state says it is directly related to a familiar problem. A sinkhole cropped up on the site.

They say even with the overrun, Rogers is doing some of the processing work at one-fifth the going price.

Copyright WSMV 2012 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


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