Warren County might have to consider condemnation efforts in the future to replace a bridge if communication continues to be poor with one property owner. The bridge is located on Old Shelbyville Road close to the Coffee County line.
“The bridge on Old Shelbyville Road, no doubt, is one of the most critical structures needing to be replaced in the Warren County bridge inventory,” said Kyle Hazel, engineer for the Warren County Highway Department. “TDOT has a bridge grant program. It provides funding to replace structures like this with a minimal amount of matching now by the counties. It’s a great way to finance your bridge projects.”
The information was presented to county Highway and Bridge Committee members Gary Prater, chair, Randy England, David Rhea, Blaine Wilcher, and Melissa Yancy.
The grant does require certain rules, regulations and all criteria be met. Hazel says there are four criteria and he’s having a difficult time with one of those.
“There are four big things and one of them is the right-of-way acquisition. In order to qualify for the funding for a bridge grant program, you must secure right of way. That requires dealing with property owners in a delicate manner. It is their property and you are asking them to participate with you. You have to answer all their questions and address all their concerns, and we have done that beyond measure with these property owners.”
Of the three property owners affected, two have signed the necessary paperwork but one will only give a verbal agreement.
“We have run into a communication issue,” said Hazel. “Everything is fine with him. He’s agreeing to everything verbally, but he won’t sign the contract. TDOT won’t accept a verbal agreement. They have to have a signed document saying ‘We agree with this.’”
Without a signed contract, the only way to replace the bridge is to begin condemnation efforts. That effort requires hiring state-approved appraisers, individuals for negotiations, and following all the legal guidelines for eminent domain.
The condition of the bridge requires it to be replaced, said Hazel, and until the county replaces it, the county will not be considered for another state bridge grant because those grants are given by priority and this bridge is currently at the top of the state’s bridge replacement list in Warren County.
If the bridge is not replaced, it could be closed by the state due to its condition.
“TDOT will eventually close this bridge due to its condition and then you are stuck,” said Hazel. “In my opinion, there is no need in allowing this one individual to keep the thousands of cars that use that roadway from receiving a structure that is safe. Like I said, he has agreed to everything but we still haven’t been able to secure any of the necessary signatures. We’ve been working on this for three years. The bridge isn’t getting any better.”
Committee members unanimously agreed to allow Hazel to move forward with state-approved appraisers and the negotiation process required for future condemnation, if necessary.