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Georgia bridges check out OK 1 year after Minnesota bridge collapse

POSTED: August 29, 2008 5:01 a.m.
TOM REED /The Times

The Dawsonville Highway bridge on the left is similar to the one that collapsed last year in Minnesota. This bridge was inspected and found to be in good shape right after the Minnesota bridge tragedy.

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Driving across a long bridge, especially an older one, it may be hard for some motorists to erase from their memory the news footage of the Minnesota bridge that collapsed one year ago, killing 13 people and injuring scores of others.

When that Aug. 1, 2007, tragedy occurred, the federal government ordered states to reinspect "deck truss" bridges, similar to the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis.

Georgia has two of those, the highly traveled Ga. 53/Dawsonville Highway bridge in Hall County, or the Jerry Jackson Bridge. The other deck truss bridge is a smaller structure in Talbot County in South Georgia.

"The bridge in Hall County had just been inspected a couple of months previously. There were no changes from the time it was inspected then, and when were asked to go out an inspect it again," said Crystal Paulk-Buchanan, media projects manager for the Georgia Department of Transportation, in an interview last week.

Talbot County checked out fine as well, she said.

The tragedy, otherwise, hasn’t changed inspection processes or the frequency of inspections in Georgia, Paulk-Buchanan said.

"Some bridges are inspected more frequently depending on the shape (the) bridge is in," she added.

As a general rule, bridges are inspected every two years.

"The DOT inspects all bridges in the state, whether they are ... an interstate or state route bridge or a county road or city bridge," Paulk-Buchanan said.

"That’s where Georgia is different than quite a few other states," she said.

"... We do that (as) we are in charge of the overall transportation system of Georgia and therefore since we were the clearinghouse for data, it makes sense for us to be handling those inspections ourselves."

The state assigns a "sufficiency rating" of 1-100 for all its bridges.

"Typically ... bridges with a lower sufficiency rating tend to be local bridges," Paulk-Buchanan said. "While we inspect all of the bridges, the ones we have to maintain are (ones on interstates and state routes).

"If we see an issue with a local bridge, we’ll notify the local authority over the bridge and let them know what the issue is. But then it is their responsibility to make repairs to that bridge."

Georgia has 14,500 bridges, Paulk-Buchanan said.

Hall County has 145 bridges, with 90 of those scoring at 90 or above and eight at 50 or below in their most recent inspections, according to a document provided Paulk-Buchanan.

"A sufficiency rating under 50 doesn’t mean that a bridge is ready to crash or anything like that," she said.

What it means is that governments can apply for federal funding to help with replacement.

"And there are a lot of things that can contribute to (a lower score). Age certainly can have a lot to do with it. Most of our bridges are approaching 40 to 50 years old, with some much, much older than that."

Last year, the state contracted for $15 million in bridge work, including repairs and maintenance, Paulk-Buchanan said.

The Hall County government has $1 million set aside in its 1-cent sales tax program for bridges, with about $400,000 spent so far, said Kevin McInturff, county engineer.

The county plans to spend the remaining $600,000 on wooden bridges at Ed Cobb and J. Martin roads, he said.

"These aren’t big bridges at all. There are no hazards associated with them, but they are fairly high maintenance," McInturff said.

Hall officials otherwise go through state inspection reports and take corrective action as needed, he said.

"We also go out and inspect all our drainage structures, and if we find deficiencies and it’s something the county can fix, then we’ll fix it ourselves," McInturff said.



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