Money lacking to replace, fix deteriorating bridges

Drive fast enough over Spirit Creek in Richmond County, and you might not notice the guard rail that hangs limply off the bridge and into the water below.

Those who regularly travel on Willis Foreman Road over the bridge aren't likely to see its warped wooden beams, which seem to be bending under the weight of years of passing vehicles, or the water soaked into its supports.

But the city of Augusta and inspectors with the Georgia Department of Transportation know. After years of warnings about the bridge's viability, officials said they will be moving forward with plans to replace the crumbling structure.

"It's a complete bridge replacement," said Richmond County Director of Engineering Abie Ladson. "It's going to be up to standard."

Seventeen bridges in Richmond County were rated structurally deficient by the GDOT during its last round of inspections, statistics show. According to GDOT spokeswoman Crystal Paulk-Buchanan, bridges with that rating need serious repairs or might need to be replaced altogether.

"Structurally deficient means it's time to replace the bridge," Ms. Paulk-Buchanan said, adding that they would be shut down immediately if inspectors thought they were in danger of collapsing.

But repairs and replacements often come with a delay.

While the GDOT report does not list how long a structure has been deficient, a 2008 report from the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts found that many local governments "frequently do not make the routine, preventative repairs recommended by the GDOT bridge inspection unit."

In a review of 11 counties, it found that 86 percent of the problems reported in the first inspection were still there when state inspectors returned two years later. Richmond County was not included in the department's sampling for the report, but reports from The Augusta Chronicle show that eight of the deficient bridges have been that way since at least 2002.

Both the report and local officials acknowledge that funding is a major problem.

Mr. Ladson said his department will be using about $16 million from the city's special purpose local optional sales tax to replace six of the county's deficient bridges.

About $9 million of that will go to the Willis Foreman Road bridge and will come from money left over from various sales tax projects, Mr. Ladson said. The rest is coming from the latest local option sales tax passed in June and will be available in 2011.

"That may not be enough, to be honest with you, but it's something to get started," he said. "You can repair for only so long before you have to replace."

A design for the Willis Foreman Road bridge replacement is complete, and officials plan to put the project up for bid by the end of this year.

Others set for replacement include Marks Church Road at Rae's Creek, Old Waynesboro Road at Spirit Creek, Berckmans Road at Rae's Creek, Scotts Way at Rae's Creek, and Seventh Street at the Augusta Canal.

This leaves 11 deficient local bridges without any plans for replacement and little money for repairs in the near future.

Dennis Stroud, the director of the Richmond County Maintenance Department, said his office will perform routine fixes but will be unable to make any major repairs this year.

"We don't have a quote unquote bridge team or a budget for bridges," Mr. Stroud said. "We just try to do what we can."

The state inspects each of Georgia's bridges every two years, no matter who owns them, Ms. Paulk-Buchanan said. If inspectors see problems, they make recommendations to the bridge's owner.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3338 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.

16 BRIDGES FOUND STRUCTURALLY DEFICIENT

The Georgia Department of Transportation inspects each of the state's bridges every two years. These are the bridges found structurally deficient during the latest inspections.

Deficient BridgesDeficiency rating (out of a possible 100)Last inspected
15th Street at the Augusta Canal51.96Dec. 5, 2007
Fifth Street at Savannah River27.4Feb. 4, 2008
Marks Church Road at Rae's Creek22.5Dec. 10, 2007
Willis Foreman Road at Spirit Creek7Feb. 8, 2008
Windsor Spring Road at Railroad crossing27.52Nov. 17, 2007
Old Waynesboro Road at Spirit Creek49.05Nov. 20, 2007
Windsor Spring Road at Rocky Creek Tributary31.95Nov. 27, 2007
Berckmans Road at Rae's Creek46.34Dec. 11, 2007
Scotts Way at Rae's Creek62.18Dec. 10, 2007
Fenwick Street at Augusta Canal50.63Dec. 5, 2007
Goodrich Road at Canal Spillway (2)30.72, 25.98Dec. 6, 2007
St. Route 10 US 1 at railroad crossing49.98Jan. 10, 2008
Windsor Spring Road at Spirit Creek29.34Nov. 20, 2007
Seventh Street at Augusta Canal33.57Dec. 4, 2007
Deans Bridge Road at South Prong Creek65.80Jan. 22, 2008
Windsor Spring Road at Norfolk-Southern Crossing27.52Nov. 15, 2007