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The Sun Sets On Henley Street Bridge

By John Disque

henley bridge sunset

Who would have thought? Most people's problem with the Henley Bridge Project was simple traffic inconvenience. Now, just 5 months into the project, it's turned into a nightmare for our city and our state and it has nothing to do with traffic or inconvenience.

There's a horrible sadness looming over Knoxville; however, as with every other tough issue, that shouldn't stop the public from asking questions.

As most of you know: since the project began in January there have been two deaths related to work on Henley Bridge.

Regarding the first one (John Womac -- the worker who died back in January, the investigation proved that his death was the result of another worker's inexperience and lack of training on a backhoe. 
Britton was fined $17,000, and Jerry Britton (owner Britton Bridge LLC) is contesting the fine.

The second and latest death (Estrada Jimenez, alias Rodolfo Bustillos) is still under investigation by the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Jimenez's case brought up many interesting questions and allegations. Amongst them, Britton is accused of hiring illegal immigrants. (It has been determined that Jimenez was from Mexico and living in the U.S. illegally.)

Just recently it was determined that Jimenez had provided fake documentation claiming his citizenship and was using an alias. The law states that a company (Britton Bridge LLC in this case) must "KNOWINGLY" employ the illegal worker in order for legal action to be taken against the company.

When it comes to putting hard working American citizens out of job there should be zero tolerance in the "illegal immigration matter." My own questions on this issue are simple: How many other illegal immigrants does Britton Bridge employ? What was Jimenez's income relative to the average legal bridge worker? Since when is ignorance an excuse for breaking the law? What company is going to confess that they knowingly hired illegal immigrants? If a company is off the hook by claiming ignorance it makes all of us and all of our laws weak and vulnerable to one man's opinion, prejudice and/or power.

Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) has stopped all work on Henley Street Bridge while they conduct a safety review on Britton and their associate company Mountain States Contractors LLC.

TDOT also stopped 8 other statewide projects for Britton and its associates until a thorough safety review is concluded and TDOT has stopped all bidding for Britton and associated companies on all future projects. TDOT states that it will take about 1 week to conclude the review.

There were only three companies bidding on the Henley street project. Britton was the lowest of the three bids. The job paid $24.7 million with a 1 million dollar bonus if the project was completed on time. Furthermore, there's a "$4,500 per day penalty" if the bridge is not completed on time.

Who made the final decision to choose Britton? Is it all just based on price? Did Britton's horrible safety record play any part in the decision? (Numerous safety violations have been found going back to 2002). What about their lack of experience with jobs of this magnitude and zero/no experience with arch bridges? Do you think it's a good policy to give a company with a horrible safety record and no experience working on arch bridges a 1-million dollar bonus to finish the work on time? Wouldn't it make sense that corners will be cut and safety will come second when combining an incompetent company with multi millions of dollars?

I have no proof of any assumption, but I'm suspecting the "good old boy's network" had much to do with choosing Britton for this project. If that turns out to be the case, I will put the deaths of these two men in the hands of both Jerry Britton and the network that gave Britton this job.


Published May 29, 2011

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