Repairing or replacing 14 Richmond County bridges could be funded by a special 1-cent sales tax for transportation projects in the region, if the vote passes Tuesday.
The bridge projects are estimated to cost more than $24 million but would ultimately save time, money and possibly lives, transportation experts say.
The Georgia Department of Transportation, which inspects bridges on a two-year cycle to comply with a federal mandate, issued its most recent inspection report for Augusta-Richmond County in August 2010. Bridge conditions are rated on a scale from “failed” to “excellent.”
Of the bridge projects proposed for funding by the transportation sales tax, six were identified as needing specially posted signs for weight limits. Structural deficiencies pose a danger for heavy truck loads.
Most had significant signs of deterioration such as failed joints, erosion, cracks and exposed steel. The state report recommended replacing the bridges.
Don Grantham, a former Augusta Commission member who is now on the Transportation Department’s board, said repairing or replacing the bridges can help avoid emergencies in the future. He noted that two bridges near Millen, Ga., were recently closed, causing traffic diversions.
“It’s not to the point that they are ready to close the bridges off. But I think several years down, they could close those bridges,” he said.
The Fifth Street bridge spanning the Savannah River was rated “poor.” Sections of the steel superstructure have been lost and the pin connections are corroding. Also, several joints have failed, bolts need replacing, beams are cracked and chunks of material are falling away, according to the report.
The cost estimate for repairing and restoring the bridge is $9.1 million – the most expensive of the 14 proposed bridge projects.
Five of the bridges were in “fair” condition, one mark higher than the “poor” category, according to the 2010 report. Most of those were deteriorating from age and had corrosion, failed joints, exposed steel and erosion.
According to a 2011 report by Transportation for America, a group that advocates investment in transportation infrastructure, Augusta-Richmond County has 89 deficient bridges, or 13.4 percent of its bridges. The area had the 13th highest percentage of deficient bridges for metropolitan areas with a population between a half million and 1 million.
The report used data from the Federal Highway Administration’s 2010 national bridge inventory, which details the condition of bridges. One in nine U.S. bridges was rated “structurally deficient,” the report says.
Grantham said the bridges on Richmond County’s sales tax project list were most likely chosen because they were in the worst shape. If the vote passes, the sales tax would provide funding instead of relying on state and federal money, he said.