Hightower Bridge open again

COVINGTON - Two years after it was closed by Newton County due to safety issues, Hightower Trail Bridge over Gum Creek has reopened.

County Engineer Kevin Walter predicted the new bridge "should last 100 years."

"The good news is we saved $1.2 million over what the conventional design would have been," he said. "Money is so important to us now, with our other road improvements, that we just wanted to build a durable, safe bridge at the most economic cost."

The two-lane, double-arched concrete bridge includes shoulders and a guardrail, with the sides of the bridge cast to look like a stone wall and dyed to match the rocks in the creek below.

The bridge's capacity was upgraded from 3 tons to 20 tons, or 40,000 pounds, and for the first time, it will safely accommodate emergency vehicles, Walter said.

Previously, fire trucks and ambulances had to find a detour route rather than risk driving over the 70-year-old structure.

A fire truck and ambulance crossed the bridge for the first time in its history after a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday morning. Long-time area resident Otis Ellington was the first resident to drive over the new bridge - he was also the last to drive over the old structure before it was torn down earlier this year. Born and raised on a farm along Hightower Trail, Ellington used to play in the creek under the bridge as a child.

The bridge was closed by the county in August 2006, shortly after a motorist lost control, struck the guardrails and nearly drove off the bridge.

The bridge's weight limit at that time of 3 tons was the lowest capacity of any bridge in the county.

Initially, the county intended to upgrade the bridge so that motorists could travel up to 45 miles per hour while driving over it, but the cost for that project, which would have involved lengthening the bridge to up to four times its current length, would have run $2 million or more, Walter said.

Instead, a slight elevation was done, with the project coming in at around $800,000, funded through special purpose local option sales tax revenues. The bridge now has a speed limit of 25 mph.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.