Originally created 02/23/01

Bridges on the brink



The Fifth Street bridge crossing the Savannah River is one of nine bridges in Augusta in poor condition, according to a Georgia Department of Transportation report on the state's county and federal-aid secondary bridges.

DOT inspectors rated the bridges as being "deficient," a term they say is not synonymous with unsafe.

Deficient is a term inspectors use to classify bridges that are not up to their load standards, said DOT spokeswoman Karlene E. Barron.

"You know, something happens - wear and tear or whatever - and they're just not able to carry that load on a consistent basis, so we classify them as structurally deficient," she said.

Inspectors said the Fifth Street structure is in poor condition "with corrosion and section loss of the steel superstructure units." One of the anchor bolt that retrofits to a beam in one of the spans has sheared and should be replaced, and splits in the deck curb of that span should be repaired.

Statewide, nearly 26 percent of Georgia's 14,382 bridges are considered deficient, but not necessarily unsafe, according to a computer analysis of Federal Highway Administration records by The Associated Press reported Tuesday. Most of the deficient bridges are on roads maintained by counties and municipalities.

But, according to the DOT report, the percentage of deficient bridges in Richmond, Burke, Columbia and McDuffie counties is lower than the state average and the national average of 29 percent.

Of the 63 Richmond County bridges inspected by the DOT, 14 percent were rated as deficient; five of 40 (12.5 percent) inspected in Burke County were below par; one of 23 (4 percent) inspected in Columbia County was deficient; and one of 19 (5 percent) inspected in McDuffie County was so rated, according to DOT data.

Georgia's bridges overall are in better shape than those in other states mentioned in the AP story, Ms. Barron said.

"I think there's a mention in that AP story about a bridge in Alabama where it's so bad kids on the school bus have to come off the bus, the school bus drives across and the kids walk around," she said. "We don't have any of those here. The bridges are not unsafe."

All structurally deficient bridges on the state highway system will be replaced within the next five years at a cost of $350 million to $400 million, DOT officials said. Georgia receives as much as $100 million a year in federal bridge improvement funds. The state system gets 85 percent, and local systems receive the remaining 15 percent.

DOT inspectors said the 15th Street bridge is in fair condition because of recent repairs by the city. The city did about $200,000 worth of emergency repairs on the substructure of the bridge last spring, city engineer Doug Cheek said.

"We repaired 26 columns," he said. "We did a lot of work out there to repair the deteriorating concrete."

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.