A frequently traveled bridge on one of the county’s main corridors needs to be repaired in less than 90 days or else it would be downgraded by the state, a move that would reroute and disrupt school bus and truck traffic. However, county officials say the fix is a simple one that can be completed quickly.
The Georgia Department of Transportation sent a Jan. 16 letter to Newton County telling county officials they either have to repair the bridge on Brown Bridge Road over the Yellow River (just east of Newton High School) in 90 days or they have to reduce its load capacity, which would mean some school buses and heavy trucks couldn’t travel on it.
County Chairman Keith Ellis said engineering firm Moreland Altobelli Associates determined that the problem with the bridge could be fixed within a week. The project will be presented to the Newton County Board of Commissioners at a meeting in February for discussion and further action.
Ellis said he has talked with several state legislators in hopes to get special funding to help repair the bridge. He said right now there isn’t an estimate of how much repairs to the bridge will cost, but said about 70 percent is expected to be paid for by state funding.
If repairs weren’t made, GDOT said the bridge would only be allowed to handle vehicles weighing 9 tons, as opposed to 16 tons currently.
The load reduction would be required by GDOT because of the loss of bearing under a beam on the bridge, suspected to be caused by years of wear and tear from vehicles crossing over the bridge.
County engineer Tom Garrett said essentially, GDOT did their normal bridge inspections, which they do every two years, and they found that repairs needed to be made on the bridge, which was built in 1961.
"They were doing their normal inspection and they found a spot where some concrete had broken and they basically have given us 90 days to fix it or they’re going to downgrade the bridge substantially. So we are pursuing that repair right now," Garrett said. "If we don’t get it fixed it will have to downgrade to 9 tons."
The bridge was labeled satisfactory in a summer 2011 GDOT report, but the report did note corrosion issues at the time, and its condition has apparently worsened.
According to the letter dated Jan. 16, if the structure was located on a school bus route, the change in posting may require a rerouting of school buses, which Ellis said made the issue an immediate concern for the county, being that it dealt with the safety of children.
Ellis said the bridge is safe for regular sized cars and trucks to go across; however, there was a concern that larger trucks and buses that cross over the bridge could exceed the weight limit required if the bridge was not repaired.
He said the county immediately gathered a team of contractors and engineers to determine if the bridge was safe soon after receiving the letter.
"We all met. The county attorney, the engineering firm, a contractor and our engineer; we got everybody who could potentially come and get under that bridge and we determined what the problem was and it turned out to be fairly simple, thankfully," Ellis said. "The buses that are going across it now according to the engineering firms that we hired and our engineer were never really in danger.
"We had engineers on site that told us that the children would be safe on those buses."
While the repairs to the bridge at Brown Bridge should be simple, it isn’t the only bridge that needs to be repaired in the county. Ellis said Oak Hill Bridge, located on the southwestern side of the county, has wooden timbers and was built in the 1960’s. He also said the bridge on Mt. Tabor Road is also set to be repaired.
"We have other bridges in the county that need addressing and we already have some of those on our plan that we’ll reveal next month," Ellis said.
A list of road projects will be provided at one of the February board meetings. The list will also determine what bridges are going to be looked at, what bridges will be addressed first and where funding will come from for each of the projects.