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Troubled bridges over water
A look at the state of the bridges in Newton County
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After a canopy fell off a relatively new bridge last summer in Atlanta, state transportation officials began an extensive review of bridges around Georgia that may be susceptible to similar failures.

That canopy was mostly decorative, according to state officials, and the culprit was a type of epoxy holding the structure onto the bridge. State officials are in the early stages of their review, and did not have information on which bridges in Newton County may be have used the epoxy.

“The initial inspection of bridges is complete, and by ‘initial’ that might be from photos already in the file, from Google Earth cameras, etc,” said Jill Goldberg, deputy press secretary with the Georgia Department of Transportation. “Based on what was discovered from those inspections, a list is being compiled of all bridges that need a further inspection and specifically what needs to be checked.”

Goldberg said the information will be compiled in a database and inspectors will check the bridges and meet with GDOT bridge office personnel to decide which need further review and which need to be repaired.

However, a review of state documents obtained from the Newton County Public Works Department and from GDOT showed that overall Newton’s bridges are in relatively good shape.

Robert Griffith, director of Newton County Public Works, said there are two bridges that will have significant work done soon. Both of those projects are in the design phase.

A bridge that carries Mount Tabor Road over the Yellow River west of Oxford suffered some erosion at the pilings that support the span in 2009 when heavy rains swelled the Yellow River and caused flooding in low lying areas. Part of the east bank of the river washed away, exposing a set of concrete and steel pilings.

“The pilings are in the river there and there was severe scouring or removal of dirt from pilings in the river,” Griffith said.

The GDOT report echoed Griffith’s assessment and warned that further erosion of the river bed could mean the weight capacity of the bridge would be reduced. The bridge was rated in satisfactory condition.

The other immediate project is to upgrade the bridge carrying Oak Hill Road over Snapping Shoals Creek southwest of Porterdale. “The Oak Hill Road bridge is aging,” Griffith said.

According to GDOT, that bridge was built in 1960 and has a “low original design capacity.” Griffith said the bridge would be replaced. That bridge is in fair condition.

GDOT conducted a review of bridges last year and issued a report in August. Of 28 bridges in the county, 11 were deemed in fair condition, five in satisfactory condition and 12 were in good condition.

“Our bridges are in good shape for most part, but we have a couple that we’re working on,” Newton County commission Chairman Kathy Morgan said.

Many of the maintenance notes GDOT made on each bridge had to do with minor corrosion, which could be corrected with cleaning and paint, and deteriorated seals in the joints between decks that should be replaced. Some reinforcements were recommended for four bridges.

GDOT uses a system of 10 rankings when assessing the condition of bridges, from “failed” all the way to “excellent.” “Fair,” “satisfactory” and “good” are in the middle to upper condition ratings, according to GDOT. Above “good” are “very good” and “excellent.” Below “fair” are “poor,” “serious,” “critical,” “imminent failure” and “failed.”

Nationwide, Georgia has the among lowest percentage of bridges considered to be deficient, according to Transportation for America, a coalition of transportation groups, state officials and mayors from around the country. In Georgia, 6.4 percent of the state’s 14,,649 are considered deficient.

Pennsylvania garnered the worst rating, with 26.5 percent of its 22,271 bridges deemed deficient.

An independent review commissioned by GDOT blamed the Atlanta canopy failure, which did not injure anyone, on the type of epoxy used to hold the canopy on the 17th Street Bridge over the Downtown Connector. The report said the epoxy, which anchored posts from the canopy in holes in the concrete on the side of the bridge, did not hold and allowed the posts to “creep” and slide out of the holes over time.

The subsequent GDOT review of state bridges was to determine what other bridges used that epoxy, which was new and popular in the early 2000s.

That type of epoxy was also blamed for a three-ton ceiling tile crashing onto the roadway in Boston’s Interstate 90 tunnel, a failure that killed one motorist.