Twenty years ago, city residents rallied to “Save Our Butt,” a clever campaign slogan crafted to protect downtown Augusta’s Archibald W. Butt Memorial Bridge from modern road construction.
Now that the 15th Street structure has marked its 100th birthday that clever catchphrase has evolved into “Restoring Our Butt.”
Augusta traffic engineers, historic preservationists and city leaders gathered at the landmark bridge Monday to announce a $1.5 million restoration project for the structure dedicated April 15, 1914, in honor of one of the city’s native son, Archie Butt.
A former Army major and close adviser to President William Howard Taft, Butt died on the Titanic in 1912 at the age of 48 after delivering a message from the White House to Pope Pius X. He went down with the ship after giving up his lifeboat seat and helping women and children off beforehand.
“This is one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on,” said Steve Cassell, the interim deputy administrator and assistant director of traffic engineering for the city of Augusta. “In the engineering field, you are used to building stuff new. Very rarely do you get to lay your hands on something that is more than 100 years old and received the attention of the president.”
Originally designed for horse wagons and Model T Fords, the outdated bridge will get an expansive face‑lift, starting in six to nine months, Cassell said.
City plans show the bridge’s deck will be overlaid with new concrete to support modern traffic loadings; lanes will be reconfigured to make room for bikes and sidewalks; and historic features, including its gilded lions, masonry eagles and Tuscan-style columns, will be restored.
Construction is expected to last nine months and begin with workers removing “intrusive facilities and utilities,” such as the cobra-head light fixture at the bridge’s midpoint and the 155-foot water line attached to the side of the overpass, Cassell said.
The project will then move to stabilizing the bridge’s three-span deck, which currently is made of concrete ribs that are layered with slabs of cement, sand, brick and asphalt, said Tom Robertson, the president of Cranston Engineering Group, the firm hired to help with Butt Bridge restoration.
City leaders said the project will be funded by the Georgia Transportation Investment Act, a penny-sales-tax referendum passed in 2012 to provide infrastructure improvements to the 13-county road system that services the Augusta area.
Sue Parr, the president of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the Butt Bridge is one of 84 projects funded by TIA, an initiative Parr credited Augusta residents for passing despite failed referendums in metro Atlanta, and in the state’s northern, coastal and middle regions.
“On July 31, 2012, the voters of our region made a very important decision,” said Parr, who wore a campaign button in support of TIA six months before it passed. “They realized that we needed to fund a transportation plan for our region for 10 years. They realized that it drives economic development and our quality of life. ”
Don Grantham, a former member of the Augusta Commission who is now vice chairman of the State Transportation Board, reitterated Parr’s remarks, saying that without the TIA program, Augusta would not be in a position to support the bridge’s restoration,.
“The rest of the state is now jealous of what you have done,” he said. “The rest of the state now wants some of this action.”