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Crowell Road permanent repair delayed
Bridges to be discussed at April 20 work session
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A section of Crowell Road, between Brown Bridge Road and Interstate 20, was washed away during September’s flooding but temporarily repaired in early November. On Tuesday night, County Engineer Kevin Walter asked the Board of Commissioners to approve the design of a permanent fix; they didn’t like the price and voted against the proposal.

A small stream branches off the Yellow River and crosses Crowell Road right next to Crowell’s intersection with Harold Dobbs Road. In September, that stream became engorged and washed away the road and damaged the 72-inch diameter pipes that run under the road.

One of three pipes was repaired so the road could reopen, but Walter said the road is in danger of being closed again if heavy rainfall occurs. Chairman Kathy Morgan said two times during the winter water reached the top of the road. The road is considereda vital corridor, and Walter estimated 15,000 cars travel it every day.

The county had decided to replace the three old metal pipes with concrete pipes, but Walter said that would have been another temporary solution.

Instead, the engineering firm Hatch Mott McDonald suggested building a concrete arch structure, essentially half bridge, half culvert, Walter said. Part of the design would include creating temporary lanes that would go around the construction and reconnect to Crowell Road further on; the road would be closed under the design.

However, because of the river, complicated and expensive hydrology and environmental studies need to be completed. Commissioners Nancy Schulz and Mort Ewing expressed concern over the total cost of the arch structure design, $140,000, as well as the 154 percent overhead charges from Hatch Mott McDonald.

Walter said the actual construction of the arch costs about $800,000. Schulz said she felt that engineering costs that added up to 15 percent of the actual construction costs were high. However, Walter said bridge design costs an average of 16 percent of construction cost.

Schulz asked why the project hadn’t been bid out; Walter said Hatch Mott McDonald was one of the county’s pre-approved engineering firms and was very well-respected in the field. In addition, many firms tended to have very similar rates. He said the firm won an award for its work on the Hightower Trail bridge.

She also asked whether the county would get any FEMA money to pay for this. Morgan said the county received $177,000 to replace the metal pipes with metal pipes. Walter said the county was appealing that amount of money, because it felt it deserved more. Wednesday he said the county could probably use the $177,000 for the arch structure, but that project had not yet received FEMA’s approval.

Ewing said the overhead cost of 154 percent of total cost was exorbitant, and he suspected that with the struggling economy, the county might be able to get a better rate. Walter said he did not think the overhead rate was negotiable, but the county could cancel its current contract and negotiate a new one. In addition, the BOC could approve each stage of design, like concept drawing, environmental work and right of way study, separately. In the end, the BOC voted not to approve the proposal and to discuss alternatives at an April 20 transportation work session.

The Bridges of Newton County

Another transportation-related agenda item was tabled and will also be discussed at the April 20 work session: the status of the county’s bridges. Last fall, the county recently received a report examining the status of all of its bridges from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

All of the county’s bridges were listed as being in “good” or “fair” condition except for two that were labeled “satisfactory,” a bridge on Brown Bridge Road where the road crosses the Yellow River and the bridge on Tabor Road, which also crosses the Yellow River. Only the Tabor Road bridge needed immediate repair.

However, despite the good conditions, several bridges required routine maintenance items. Walter said the county needs a better system to rank bridges in order of when they need to be repaired. During the past five years, Walter has determined the order of repairs. However, Walter brought a proposal before Hatch Mott McDonald to inspect 65 of the county’s bridges and rank them in order of importance to repair and estimated cost of repair; the study would cost up to $46,000. Walter said it would help the county save money in the long-term.

Ewing asked whether the county engineering department could do the work using the GDOT report. Walter said that would not be a good idea, because Hatch Mott McDonald specializes in bridge repair and they might be able to offer alternative ideas to fix bridges, which could be less expensive and more effective.

The GDOT bridge report was actually created two months before the flooding. Normally, counties have one year to make all of the repairs required by GDOT. However, FEMA ruled that Newton County is ineligible to receive federal funds for the repairs because it did not perform routine maintenance. The county is appealing the ruling, because the county only had the report for two months before the floods came.

Morgan said if the county hires Hatch Mott McDonald to repair its bridges it will be in compliance with FEMA, but if the county doesn’t, it might to accept any liability for bridge damage.

Walter said the county spent $5 million over the past 5 years to repair bridges; to complete repairs on all the bridges in the county would cost about $20 million. With no guarantee of as much SPLOST money in the future, Walter said the county needed smarter planning. The Hatch Mott McDonald representative present said planning could save Newton County money by allowing it to stop being reactive.