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Mt. Tabor bridge reopens
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The Mount Tabor Road bridge over the Yellow River is open again.

Originally damaged in a 2009 flood, the bridge had been closed since Feb. 13 so it could be rebuilt from the riverbed up. It reopened to public traffic Thursday.

Repairs were completed by Atlanta-based McCarthy Improvement Co.; the cost was $594,780, according to Ed McWhorter, project manager for McCarthy.

Newton County Chairman Keith Ellis said repairs were funded using 2011 SPLOST money.

Mount Tabor Road is a popular route for some residents in northern Newton County, particularly those who live off Cook and Mount Zion roads and want to take Interstate 20. The road connects Cook Road to Almon Road just north of the I-20 interchange.

The partial bridge replacement not only reopens the road to passenger vehicles, but also allows larger vehicles, including school buses, fire trucks and larger trucks, to use it again.

Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown said his office has received many calls about the road closing, and he said response times to the area should improve now that the bridge has reopened.

The bridge was damaged by heavy flooding in September 2009 that washed away part of the east bank and exposed the pilings of the piers and left them unstable. Former county engineer Kevin Walter said at the time the exposed pilings could allow the "bridge to move or fall."

The bridge was reopened later in 2009, but it was downgraded by the state so that vehicles weighing more than 8 tons — including school buses and other large vehicles — weren’t allowed to travel on it. McCarthy removed the middle section of the bridge and the three piers and replaced them, installing two new piers, said McCarthy Superintendent Robert Vick. Instead of two 40-foot spans over the river itself, McCarthy installed one 80-foot span, which prevented it  from having to install a third pier right in the middle of the river, Vick said; the middle pier used to catch river debris. Chairman Ellis dedicated the bridge reopening to county Public Works Director Robert Griffith, who is recovering from a stroke he suffered recently at work. Ellis said Griffith is doing much better. Griffith has worked for the county for 20-plus years, and Ellis said he’s "like a granddaddy" to some employees and "helps everybody."

Michael Barr, Newton County School System director of support services, and Newton County Fire Chief Kevin O’Brien both attended the opening, and a school bus and a fire truck were driven across the bridge to show it is safe for all traffic. Commissioner Nancy Schulz, who uses the road to travel from her home to her business, The Oaks Golf Course, said she was excited by the road reopening and knew many other residents would be glad for the quick access to I-20.

The bridge was initially set to reopen Sept. 18, but reopened 21 days ahead of time.