The county reopened Hightower Trail Bridge Tuesday afternoon after a year and a half closure to the delight of the fire department and emergency medical services who will no longer have to make long detours around the bridge.
The reconstructed bridge can now carry any county vehicle including school buses and ladder fire trucks. Prior to its reconstruction, the bridge was only rated to carry 7,000 pounds according to County Engineer Kevin Walter.
The project cost $800,000 and was funded through the county's Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
"It really is something we're proud of because we did it for a very good price," Walter said, adding that he was very pleased with the work of the construction contractors, Cline Service.
Walter said when the county passed the SPLOST several years ago, it looked for bridges badly in need of rehabilitation and Hightower Trail Bridge was an obvious candidate. The old bridge was mixture of metal and stone supports and wooden planks for cars to drive on. School buses, fire trucks and ambulances could not use it.
"We certainly appreciate the people of Newton County for allowing us to do this," said Newton County Chairman Aaron Varner who was in attendance for the official ribbon cutting ceremony.
Hightower Trail Bridge was reconstructed using pre-stressed concrete panels and arches which form the outside walls of the bridge. The panels are textured to look like rocks.
"It's a beautiful bridge. It ought to last 100 years," Walter said.
Newton County Fire Chief Mike Satterfield said the reconstructed bridge will shave minutes off his department's ability to answer calls in the northeastern part of the county.
Prior to the bridge's opening, when an emergency call came through for the area near the bridge, Satterfield said the dispatcher had to find out which side of the bridge the call was coming from in order to determine which station was closest. If the closest station was already out on a call, the second station was then dispatched, which could add as much as 10 minutes to response time.
"Being able to have emergency vehicles [cross the bridge] is terrific," Walter said.
Hightower Trail Bridge is built by the site of the old Itawa Trail, which formed the dividing line between the territories of Creek and Cherokee Indians, the county's first residents.