“This bridge is in poor condition with serious conditions in the superstructure and substructure,” the Georgia Department of Transportation wrote in its most recent inspection report.
Bridge conditions again returned to the national consciousness with the collapse of a Washington state bridge May 24. The National Transportation Safety Board called it a warning for the entire nation.
Most of Richmond County’s 245 bridges earn satisfactory rankings, with the number of “structurally deficient” spans falling from 16 in 2009 to just eight in 2012.
Though the state is required to inspect all bridges every two years, local governments are often responsible for repairing or replacing them, said Abie Ladson, Augusta’s engineering director.
One of the area’s worst bridges – on Willis Foreman Road over Spirit Creek – was recently replaced, he said.
“That one was very deficient, and we even closed it down for a while,” he said.
Six other bridges are scheduled for replacement, with repairs on 19 others in various stages of design and funding.
Augusta’s most notoriously deficient span is the Fifth Street bridge, which was named the Jefferson Davis Memorial Bridge when it was dedicated in 1931.
Despite intermittent cosmetic repairs, state inspectors last year gave it a “poor” rating, citing sheared-off anchor bolts, corroded pin connections, cracked beams and other issues. The bridge also received a low score – 27.4 out of 100 – from the Federal Highway Administration.
Although the bridge isn’t pretty, it is not in danger of failure, Ladson said, calling it “structurally in good shape.”
Often, bridges that are substandard are posted with weight limits, with closing used only as a last resort.
Bridge failures like the one that shut down a major interstate near Seattle last month are rare, in part because of inspection programs designed to detect safety issues before a collapse.
Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Cissy McNure said there are 14,455 bridges in the state, with 7,872 owned by local governments and 6,583 owned by the state. The public is urged to immediately notify authorities if they observe damage to a bridge.
Augusta’s deficient bridges include two along Goodrich Street, a dirt road parallel to the Augusta Canal. Both are in the planning stages for repair or replacement, but in the meantime, the area is closed to vehicle traffic from the public.
Dayton Sherrouse, the executive director of the Augusta Canal Authority, said the decision to close the road two years ago was driven by other issues, including crime, vandalism and littering.
“The bridge had nothing to do with closing the road,” he said.
Other bridges with deficient ratings include Seventh Street at the canal, Marks Church Road at Rae’s Creek, Scott’s Way at Rae’s Creek, Fenwick Street at the canal and Windsor Spring Road at Spirit Creek.
Columbia County has only one structurally deficient bridge, at Stevens Way over a tributary of Reed Creek, according to a 2011 report from Transportation America, which listed 36 bridges in Aiken County that require attention.