Special Report: The bridges of Muscogee County
COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Tens of thousands of drivers in the Chattahoochee Valley use dozens of bridges to get from Point A to Point B.
Over time, however, bridges start to lose their structural integrity.
"Bridges are subject to the environment," said Donna Newman, director of the City of Columbus' Engineering Department.
"Some of the defects are environmental. It gets to a point that some of these bridges, their design was deficient to carry the type of loading that it gets today," said Newman
News Leader 9 sat down with Newman to look over a recent report that lists 25 bridges in Georgia that are both the most traveled and the most structurally deficient.
Using data collected by the Federal Highway Administration, a group called the American Road and Transportation Builders Association named three structurally deficient bridges in Muscogee County:
- A portion of J.R. Allen Parkway, passing over Flat Rock Creek;
- The Oglethorpe Bridge near the civic center connecting Columbus to Phenix City;
- And a stretch of Buena Vista Road that goes over Bull Creek.
Newman said all three of these bridges were built many years ago. "For instance, on the one bridge, over the river on 280, I know that bridge is over 50 years old," said Newman.
After looking at a history of these bridges, the Oglethorpe (US-280) Bridge was built in 1962, the J.R. Allen bridge, in 1988, and the oldest one, Buena Vista at Bull Creek, was built back in 1924.
We went out onto the streets to ask drivers in Muscogee County their thoughts on driving over potentially dangerous bridges.
"I cross a lot of bridges because I drive a truck to work, and it's a big boom truck, got a lot of weight to it," said Mike Campbell, who's lived in Columbus for 25 years. "I'd like somebody to get busy on it if it's like that, right?"
"That's uncomfortable," Brenda Clanton said, "not just us drivers, but we have students, buses that come cross those bridges, and if it has structural damage, it needs to be taken care of. I know it's going to cost some money, but that's dangerous."
But, Newman said, the Georgia Department of Transportation keeps data on bridges and roads, and that's what the city's engineering department will use, and not necessarily a report released by other associations.
"I can depend on what the Department of Transportation provides us," Newman said, "because, again, it's very systematic, and they look at it thoroughly."
Newman also said a city project is already underway, using funds granted by the federal Transportation Investment Act. This, she said, will address concerns not just for the bridge on Buena Vista Road, but the daily traffic coming and going across the railroad tracks near that intersection, referred to as the "spider web."
While Newman said addressing the concerns over bridges should be a priority, it's hard to do that when there are many other infrastructure issues that need attention.
"It's really difficult when you have a lot of competing needs," Newman said. "Roads that need to be resurfaced, storm drains that are falling in, and increased traffic, you're having to make other types of infrastructure improvements."
In most project situations, Newman said, the city will coordinate with the Georgia Department of Transportation, who will then lead the way to fix larger structures.
"[GDOT does] the inspections, so we're always coordinating with them. The larger projects, like the one on 280, and then the one on J.R. Allen, those would-be projects that would be outside the local project level," said Newman.
Therefore, the city will lead the charge on repairing the Buena Vista Road bridge and GDOT will handle the Oglethorpe and JR Allen Bridges.
There's a growing concern over bridges on the state and national scale. Data from the Federal Highway Administration shows four in 10 U.S. bridges were built at least 50 years ago.
The same agency's last reports show Georgia has 700 out of over 14,000 bridges that are structurally deficient.