Are our bridges safe?

Lo­cal con­cerns raised in the wake of Min­neapo­lis dis­as­ter

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - By Rachel Oswald

Last Wed­nes­day’s tragic news of a ma­jor bridge col­laps­ing in Min­neapo­lis has caused pub­lic of­fi­cials across the na­tion to sit up and take stock of the bridges in their own ju­ris­dic­tions.

New­ton County En­gi­neer Kevin Wal­ter said the news of the sud­den and un­ex­pected col­lapse of a large span of the I-35W Mis­sis­sippi River Bridge, which re­sulted in the deaths of at least five peo­ple, was very dis­con­cert­ing to him.

“How that can hap­pen with­out some in­di­ca­tion, I’m sure it will be talked about for some years,” Wal­ter said.

A whole-scale bridge col­lapse such as the one in Min­neapo­lis is highly un­likely to oc­cur in New­ton County though said Wal­ter.

“One good thing is we don’t have any long-span bridges. They are fairly small bridges,” Wal­ter said. “This was a huge bridge and an enor­mous fail­ure. I think we’re safe in the county, and I think we have a pro-ac­tive pro­gram of re­pair­ing bridges and we don’t ex­pect any bridge fail­ures.”

Soon af­ter the Mis­sis­sippi River Bridge col­lapse The At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion came out with a re­port of their own that listed 18 bridges in Metro At­lanta which were rated be­low a 10 on a 100 point scale by the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion.

For­tu­nately for driv­ers in New­ton County none of the bridges listed in the AJC’s re­port are lo­cated in the county.

Ac­cord­ing to Car­rie Ham­blin, me­dia spokes­woman for the GDOT, there are 96 bridges in the county, both on-sys­tem bridges which the state over­sees and off­sys­tem bridges which the county over­sees.

At least once ev­ery two years state in­spec­tors visit the county to ex­am­ine its bridges. The in­spec­tors ex­am­ine the en­tire struc­tures of the bridge said Ham­blin, check­ing for cor­ro­sion, scour­ing and weath­er­ing and test­ing to de­ter­mine what kinds of load the bridge can han­dle.

“ We also take into ac­count traf­fic counts as well as the type of traf­fic,” Ham­blin said.

While state in­spec­tors ex­am­ined New­ton County’s bridges over the Jan­uary-Fe­bru­ary pe­riod, a re­port of their find­ings has yet to be re­leased.

“We do rely heav­ily on the state ex­pert in­spec­tors,” Wal­ter said. “That re­port ev­ery two years is very im­por­tant to us.”

Emer­gency re­pairs were com­pleted this past spring to the Ed­wards Road Bridge which crosses Gum Creek. Ac­cord­ing to Wal­ter, state in­spec­tors in­formed the county in Jan­uary that they had se­ri­ous con­cerns about the safety of the bridge due to the ero­sion by sand and wa­ter of the py­lons sup­port­ing the bridge.

“I don’t think the bridge was in im­mi­nent dan­ger of fail­ure,” Wal­ter said. “But they don’t take any risks in the state and we didn’t want to take any chances ei­ther so we closed it and fixed it im­me­di­ately.”

Quick ac­tion was taken by the county to close the bridge said Wal­ter while re­pairs to cross­brace the py­lons, weld all cracks and en­case the py­lons in con­crete to pro­tect them from high wa­ter took place. The bridge has since been re-opened.

“As far as we know there are no other bridges in the county aside from that one bridge that were in need of emer­gency re­pairs,” Wal­ter said. “That’s not to say that we don’t have some variety of bridges, some with re­pairs that are nec­es­sary.”

The county also took the step of clos­ing the 70-year-old High Tower Trail Bridge last fall un­til such time as the bridge can be re­placed. The sin­gle-lane tim­ber deck bridge was rated to han­dle only three tons, roughly the weight of a sin­gle car Wal­ter said.

For a bridge to be able to hold a school bus and rated for all traf­fic it must be able to carry 20 tons, or 40,000 pounds said Wal­ter.

Wal­ter said the county is cur­rently in the process of pur­chas­ing right-of-way and ex­pects con­struc­tion on the new bridge to be­gin late this year or early next year.

Two ad­di­tional bridge re­pair projects were ex­pected to go be­fore the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers for ap­proval Tues­day night. One project would re-sur­face the deck of the Al­covy Road Bridge, which crosses Cor­nish Creek. Ac­cord­ing to Wal­ter the deck’s con­crete top has be­come cracked, al­low­ing rain­wa­ter to seep inside the bridge and over time to cor­rode the bridge’s sup­ports. Resur­fac­ing the bridge now will ex­tend the life of the bridge. The project is ex­pected to cost about $500,000.

The sec­ond bridge project would con­sist of mi­nor re­pairs to the un­der­side of Dial Mill Road Bridge, which crosses Gum Creek said Wal­ter.

While the av­er­age life­span of a bridge is be­tween 30 to 75 years, many of the county’s bridges are al­ready be­tween 30 and 50 years old Wal­ter said.

“We worry con­stantly about re­plac­ing bridges in the fu­ture and com­ing up with money for that,” Wal­ter said. “It’s a big ex­pense and it’s cer­tainly a big con­cern.”

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Con­demned: This wooden bridge, lo­cated on Hightower Trail in New­ton County, was closed sev­eral years ago af­ter the county deemed it un­safe for use. There are a re­ported 96 bridges in New­ton County, over­seen by state and county agen­cies.

M. Spencer Green/The As­so­ci­ated Press

Tragic con­se­quences: Emer­gency work­ers at­tend to ve­hi­cles on two col­lapsed sec­tions of wreck­age of In­ter­state 35W bridge, which col­lapsed over the Mis­sis­sippi River in Min­neapo­lis.

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