BY RICH JONES
ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR
The US Nitrogen plant under construction off Pottertown Road has been a large project in Greene County for more than two years.
Starting on Monday, motorists from Knoxville to Greene County will find out just how big a project it is.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) issued a "special traffic alert" on Friday, warning motorists to expect delays next Monday and Tuesday along portions of U.S. 11E and other major roads as a "large vessel" is transported at night through East Tennessee.
That large vessel is the massive, concrete absorption tower for the US Nitrogen facility in Midway.
The tower is 137-feet long, and weighs 330,000 pounds, or 165 tons.
It is scheduled to be erected next Friday at the US Nitrogen plant and will stand nearly 14-stories-high, making it the tallest structure in Greene County.
A slow-moving convoy will transport the tower, at speeds from 8 to 25 mph, through East Tennessee.
Greeneville-based C&C Millwright Maintenance Co., and Barnhart Crane and Rigging Company are heavily involved with TDOT in the carefully coordinated move, said C&C President Jerry Fortner on Friday.
The tower and its transportation rigging is 16-feet-wide and 175-feet-long, and will take up entire travel lanes at many stretches of the trip.
The hauling rig, truck and absorption tower together weigh an estimated 256 tons, TDOT said in a news release.
THE MONDAY SCHEDULE
Transportation of the tower will begin at 7 p.m. Monday and end the first night of a two-night journey at a location near Walters State Community College in Morristown.
Highway planners estimate the first night of the trip will cover a 42-mile route that will take about eight hours.
Weather permitting, TDOT said in a news release, the tower is scheduled to start the journey from Knoxville to Midway via the following route and affect the following roads:
* Portions of John Sevier Highway will be closed from National Drive to Strawberry Plains Pike.
* Sections of Strawberry Plains Pike from John Sevier Highway to Interstate 40, and from I-40 to the Asheville Highway, will be temporarily closed.
* Ramps onto eastbound I-40 and off westbound I-40 will be closed temporarily.
* No access will be allowed onto Strawberry Plains Pike until the tower has passed through.
* Traffic on eastbound U.S. 11E will be delayed from Jefferson City into Morristown.
* Traffic on eastbound State Route 160 will be delayed in Morristown.
* Traffic on southbound and northbound US 25E/State Route 32 will be delayed in Morristown.
TUESDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
On Tuesday, Aug. 27, the journey will resume at 7 p.m., with law enforcement officers stationed at intersections to control traffic.
Here is the schedule:
* Traffic on the 25E northbound ramp and eastbound East Morris Blvd. will be delayed in Morristown.
The tower will leave Morristown Industrial Park on East Morris Boulevard, making a left onto Shelby Williams Lane and then a right onto U.S. 11E/SR 34. The convoy will take the entire pavement width of U.S. 11E/SR 34.
* Westbound traffic on U.S. 11E will be temporarily closedas the convoy proceeds to Interstate 81. Police will be stationed at intersections;
* Westbound truck traffic will be stopped and rerouted at the intersections with State Highways 113 and 66 and I-81 as the convoy proceeds eastbound on U.S. 11E / SR 34.
* The convoy will make a left onto I-81 via the southbound off-ramp at Exit 23 and cross the I-81 median. The hauling rig will be able to cross the median because tons of rock have been placed in the median by C&C Millwright.
* Sections of U.S. 11E/SR 34 to I-81 and from I-81 to Midway will be temporarily closed during the move. Law enforcement officers will be stationed at intersections to control traffic and prevent traffic from turning westbound.
* The off-ramp from southbound I-81 and on-ramp to northbound I-81 will be temporarily closed.
* The convoy will continue eastbound on U.S. 11E/SR34 to a right turn onto Pottertown Road. Traffic on eastbound U.S. 11E/SR34 will be delayed.
* The convoy will take the entire pavement width of Pottertown Road. Power lines will be raised along Pottertown Road to accommodate the move.
Law enforcement officers will be stationed at intersections to control traffic and prevent traffic from turning into the path of the convoy.
* The hauling rig will make a left turn into the new US Nitrogen Plant at 471 Pottertown Road, completing the route.
Highway planners estimate it will take the tower up to seven hours to travel the 20-mile route from Morristown to the US Nitrogen plant in Midway.
HOW IT GOT TO TENNESSEE
The absorption tower has a fascinating story.
Its journey to Greeneville started in Lake Charles, La., where it was refurbished to US Nitrogen specifications for use at the new plant.
How the structure got from Lake Charles, in southwest Louisiana, to Knoxville, takes some explaining.
From Lake Charles, the tower had to be floated by barge into the Gulf of Mexico, east to the Mississippi River Delta, and northward up the Mississippi River to Cairo, Ill.
At Cairo, the barge carrying the massive tower navigated onto the Ohio River, moving east to Paducah, Ky., where it accessed the Tennessee River.
Once on the Tennessee, the barge made its way through northern Alabama and northward to the nearest point to Greene County it could navigate -- Knoxville.
The tower has been in storage at the barge yard at Forks of The River Industrial Park off John Sevier Highway on the east side of Knoxville.
WHEN IT GETS HERE
Once the tower arrives at the US Nitrogen site in Midway, a 500-ton-plus crane with a 180-foot main boom, owned by Barnhart Crane and Rigging Company, will be used to right the structure in a maneuver scheduled for Friday, Aug. 30.
The crane itself takes two days to set in place and prepare for the lift of the tower.
But once preparations have been made, the tower will be raised and in place in about an hour, said Jim Boldt, CFO of Austin Powder Company, the parent company of US Nitrogen.
"It's a tedious lift, but it's spectacular," Boldt said.
For up-to-date travel information, motorists may dial 5-1-1 from any land line or cellphone or follow TDOT on Twitter.
For traffic information in the Knoxville and Tri-Cities areas, follow http://www.twitter.com/knoxville511 @Knoxville511.
For statewide travel information, follow http://www.twitter.com/TN511" @TN511