City mulls uses

The future of the 80-year-old Fifth Street Bridge over the Savannah River might be one without vehicular traffic.

Although officials in both Augusta and North Augusta say no decisions have been made, they confirm discussions are under way that could close the bridge to cars and limit its traffic to pedestrians or bicycles.

Augusta City Administrator Fred Russell said there are several considerations, including the cost of improving the bridge's safety.

The bridge suffers from widespread "corrosion and section loss of the steel superstructure," broken sidewalks and failed deck joints, according to a 2006 Georgia state inspection, which rated the 1,202-foot-long structure in poor condition.

Another consideration is usage. Crews have set up traffic counters to measure daily use. If the bridge, which is listed on the National Historic Registry, were closed, vehicle traffic would probably shift to the nearby U.S Highway 1/Gordon Highway Bridge, Mr. Russell said.

One option is to leave the bridge open to pedestrians and bike riders. Mr. Russell said there would be the possibility of adding a bike path, benches and greenery to make it accommodating to the public.

"The cosmetic stuff that we would have to do to make it pedestrian friendly would cost a whole lot less than what it would take to maintain" the bridge so it would stay safe enough for cars, he said.

But he said it is premature to forecast the bridge's future.

That future is looking less promising because a recent South Carolina Department of Transportation proposal to improve the adjacent U.S. Highway 1-River North Drive interchange doesn't include a vehicular link to the Fifth Street Bridge, according to Todd Salvagin, the principal of SRS Traffic Transportation and Parking Consultants of West Columbia, S.C.

During a recent North Augusta City Council meeting, Mr. Salvagin said the South Carolina DOT anticipated the bridge becoming a pedestrian corridor.

Preliminary design has been completed and right-of-way has been purchased for the U.S. 1 interchange project, officials have said.

The bridge's future rests mostly with Augusta, officials say.

"The ultimate usage of the Fifth Street Bridge is a function of the city of Augusta," said G.M. "Skip" Grkovic, North Augusta's director of Economic and Community Development.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.