COVINGTON -- Repairs will shortly be made to Brown Bridge Road over the Yellow River, as the county has received notice from the Georgia Department of Transportation that the bridge is unsafe for school buses and other large vehicles if wear and tear are not immediately addressed.
According to BOC Chairman Keith Ellis, the county received a letter from the DOT over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend that the bridge would be downgraded from a weight capacity of 16 tons to 9 tons, putting it below the weight capacity required for school buses, fire trucks and other large vehicles.
Ellis said he immediately notified commissioners and the school system, and, along with the county's public works department and consultants with Moreland Altobelli and cooperation from the DOT, determined a solution that will not require rerouting of those vehicles.
The bridge is safe to travel right now, according to engineers, but repairs must be done before the situation gets worse, Ellis said. The issue is wear and tear over time that have worn down metal plates in the bridge, so that concrete is touching concrete.
Prior to the assurance that the bridge is safe for now, Ellis said he was prepared to use a piece of property owned by the county on Brown Bridge Road to transfer students from large buses to smaller buses in order to cross the bridge. Buses transporting students to and from Porterdale Elementary, Newton High School and the Newton County College and Career Academy use the bridge. Michael Barr, director of support services for the Newton County School System, said buses cross the bridge approximately 41 times each day.
"I was not going to let those students be in danger getting to school or back home," Ellis said.
Barr noted that the bridge is still posted with a load capacity allowing its use by buses. "Should the posted load carrying capacity change, the school system is prepared to reroute buses as necessary," he said.
Ellis has already authorized the expenditure of $3,500 for engineering and design costs. He said he does not have a cost estimate yet on the repairs, but that the DOT has committed to funding 70 percent.
"We plan to have a price and repair plan ready no later than the BOC meeting on Feb. 19," said County Engineer Tom Garrett. "As a part of that, we will know whether a detour will be required. However, at this time we are anticipating that the repair can be done with temporary, single lane closures, which should not require a detour."
Ellis estimated the repairs will take a week.
In addition, buses crossing a bridge on Oak Hill Road over Snapping Shoals Creek are now being rerouted.
"Following a recent meeting with representatives of the Newton County Board of Commissioners regarding structural issues with the bridge over Snapping Shoals Creek on Oak Hill Road, the school system has rerouted three buses which were crossing the bridge six times per day. Route changes will remain in place pending replacement or repair of the structure. The route changes affected students at Oak Hill Elementary School, Veterans Middle School, and Alcovy High School," Barr said.
Garrett said a bridge inspection report is generated by GDOT every two years, with the most recent one done in August 2011. Posting requirements are established in the report, he said, and the Oak Hill Road bridge was correctly posted at 14 tons at that time.
However, Ellis said he felt it necessary to notify the school system of new issues identified in the most recent inspection -- apparently, beavers have eaten part of some of the posts. He said he hopes a repair will happen by summer.
Finally, repairs to Mt. Tabor Road bridge are scheduled to get under way Thursday. A section of Mt. Tabor Road between Almon and Cook roads will be closed for approximately seven months. The detour for the closure utilizes Almon Road, Iris Drive, Old Oxford Road, Cook Road and Sockwell Road.
The bridge was damaged in the 2009 flood.