COVINGTON - Repairs to Mt. Tabor Road Bridge, which was damaged during the 2009 flood, should get underway in the next few months.
The Board of Commissioners approved at its Aug. 21 meeting the use of a consultant to provide expertise on the project and authorized the county attorney to obtain needed temporary easements.
The board approved the design contract last fall and the next step is to put the project out to bid. If all goes according to plan, construction could begin in December or January and take seven to nine months to complete, said County Engineer Tom Garrett.
The middle portion of the bridge will be replaced, and piers will be reconstructed in a sturdier fashin to hold up better in the river.
The bridge has been closed to vehicles weighing more than 8 tons, such as fire trucks and school buses, since 2009, but once repairs are complete, it will be safe for all traffic.
The bridge is not very old, having been constructed in the mid 1980s.
"That's part of the reason, instead of replacing it, we're repairing it. The rest of the bridge is in good shape, but the foundation under those center piers has been eroded," Garrett said.
The project cost is expected to be just under $500,000, paid for through 2011 SPLOST revenues, with the Georgia Department of Transportation funding $105,000.
When GDOT first inspected the bridge over the Yellow River shortly after the 2009 flood, it determined it was safe for all traffic. But Chairman Kathy Morgan had a county-hired consultant examine the bridge and the consultant found the scouring and recommended setting a weight limit of 8 tons.
However, county commissioners accepted the DOT's report, and so did the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA would not allocate any money to repair the bridge and commissioners rejected a proposal for design work, based on the DOT's report.
"Commissioners were trying to protect the taxpayers because the DOT said it was OK," Morgan previously told the Citizen. Morgan asked commissioners to allow her to keep the bridge closed to large vehicles and have it inspected every 90 days for additional damage. After a year had passed, she asked DOT to inspect again. A dive team came out in 2011 and this time they agreed with the consultant's report.
"They came up and were shocked at the scouring around the pier," Morgan said.
Morgan said she doesn't believe the DOT intentionally overlooked the safety hazard, noting that inspectors were extremely busy in the days following the flood. The DOT did not send a dive team down initially, and there was so much debris it's unlikely anyone could have gotten a clear view if they had, she said.
"About 8,000 to 9,000 cars passed over the bridge a day before we reduced the weight, but compare that to 1 million cars going over some bridges in the Atlanta area," she said. "The DOT had so many big issues. This one just got a quick look."