Special Report: Future of Augusta's 5th St. bridge up in the air - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Special Report: Future of Augusta's 5th St. bridge up in the air

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AUGUSTA, GA (WFXG) -

The future of Augusta's Historic 5th Street Bridge is up in the air. City leaders are discussing the best course of action when it comes to the eighty-five-year-old structure.

Hundreds of drivers use the Jefferson Davis Memorial Bridge, also known as the 5th Street Bridge, every day. But should they?

"Right now, the bridge does have some issues. Some substructure and superstructure issues,” said Abie Ladson, Director of Augusta Engineering.

The Georgia Department of Transportation last inspected the bridge in December 2015. The substructure, anything below the bridges beams, and the superstructure, which includes the deck, beams and barriers; all rated "poor." The deck condition and underwater conditions rated "fair." But still, the bridge is open.

As of now, cars and trucks are driving over the bridge every day. The Georgia Department of Transportation said if they deemed it unsafe, they would have Augusta Engineering shut it down. Regardless, Augusta Engineering said change is necessary. But what to do with the bridge is the big question.

"Do we keep the bridge open, whether it would become a pedestrian bridge, or whether we would replace the bridge,” Ladson said.

The Savannah Riverkeeper, Tonya Bonitatibus, is in favor of the pedestrian bridge option. "There are almost 170 miles worth of trails in the Augusta area, and there's at least 40 miles of trails in North Augusta, and that bridge would be a vital connection for both of those."

Bonitatibus said a pedestrian bridge could easily tie recreation in the two cities together.

"Having a pedestrian and bicycle bridge is a significant move in that direction. Of actually saying ya know, we want to have a community where everybody doesn't have to drive a car just to go from Point A to Point B that's less than a mile, or 2 miles away,” Bonitatibus said.

The Transportation Investment Act included $8 million for improvements between now and 2019. City leaders just need to decide if more funding will go towards repairs.

"To take the bridge and do a total replacement, I mean you're probably talking at least between $20 and $25 million,” Ladson explained.

The bridge is scheduled to be evaluated again in December. The result of that inspection will determine the city's next course of action.

"It's something that we have to go through the Georgia Department of Transportation on, because it is a Transportation Investment Act project. And then we'd probably present that to the commission for information,” Ladson said.

GDOT said Augusta Engineering is also bringing in a consultant to evaluate the bridge this December, and offer professional suggestions on its future as well.

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