Steve Daly has lived in the Augusta area for almost 50 years and knows from experience to slow almost to a halt when crossing the Fifth Street bridge.
He said drivers traveling faster than 10 mph could become airborne, lose control of their vehicles or possibly hit nearby street lamps and drainage curbs.
Daly’s assessment might sound extreme, but residents, business owners and taxi drivers share the same observations, imploring the city for decades to smooth out the hump leading into the overpass, which was built in 1931.
“I’ve lived here since 1964, and that hump has always been there and the city has always had problems with it,” said Daly, who, as dockmaster of the Riverwalk Marina, travels the bridge daily.
Of the 245 bridges in Richmond County, the Fifth Street bridge is one of eight that the Federal Highway Administration in 2010 rated as “structurally deficient.” According to the administration’s National Bridge Inventory, the multibeam steel overpass has a 28 percent satisfaction rating, with its deck in fair condition, its structure in poor and the circuit as a whole, meeting the “minimum tolerable limits to be left as is.”
Despite routine maintenance by the city and a bright-yellow sign warning “bump 10 mph,” Daly said the bridge entrance from Augusta has led to some “horrendous crashes” since the 1970s, in which missing chunks of concrete and tire marks remain on Fifth Street as reminders.
The source of the bump comes from a metal joint, covered with asphalt, that ties together the retaining wall of the Savannah River levee to the ramp descending into downtown Augusta, said Steve Cassell, the traffic engineer for Augusta and Richmond County. It was once a swing bridge for passing watercraft, he said.
Cassell said the city plans to hire a consultant by the end of the year to analyze the overpass and proceed with a plan, estimated at $10 million, to restore the bridge’s structure, fix damaged concrete, install better lighting and dress it up as a gateway to downtown Augusta.
“Considering its history, the bridge is actually not in bad shape,” Cassell said. “We will get it fixed.”
Before any improvements are made, Cassell said, the public will get a chance to give its input on the project. Traffic counts estimate 3,720 vehicles travel the bridge each day, a large portion of which are said to be people crossing the state line to take advantage of cheaper gas in South Carolina.
Some Fifth Street regulars have found comfort in the bridge hump, especially at the Riverwalk Marina, where a steep incline and shrubbery block oncoming traffic.
“I like it,” Walter Clay said of the bump. Clay owns a boat at the marina and uses the bridge several times a day.
Although Clay said that the bump is rough and that he considered asking the city to flatten it, he never followed through on the request.
“It keeps motorists from speeding across the bridge and people coming in and out
of the marina safe,” he said. “Visibility is not that great.”