LULA — Cobb Street bridge is back in business.
The city reopened the 67-year-old structure in August, after Norfolk-Southern Railroad completed some structural work that had rendered the bridge closed to traffic since April 2011.
“People have been kind of upset that it took so long to get it repaired, particularly the ones who live on that side of the tracks,” said Vicky Chambers, owner of Around the Corner Florist, city councilwoman and historical society president.
The tracks run parallel to Main Street, dividing in half this northeast Hall County town known for its annual Railroad Days festival.
The Cobb Street bridge provides residents a way for to cross the tracks without having to wait on one of the many trains that pass through town each day.
Before it closed, the bridge had a 15.79 sufficiency rating, based on a 0-100 scale, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation’s bridges database in December.
A score of 50 or below is considered “structurally deficient.”
“For the past three years, we’ve had structural deficits that have required the bridge to be closed on three occasions,” Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin said. “And this last time, the period to get it corrected, unfortunately, took over a year.
“With the problems that Norfolk-Southern runs into, I’m sure they had to prioritize a lot of the issues, as far as corrective action,” he said.
Bergin said he pushed the issue through U.S. Rep. Tom Graves’ office, as well as the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The city worked to improve communication between Norfolk-Southern and DOT — which he blames for part of the delay — by arranging for both to meet when the project was done.
The goal was to “make sure that everything was satisfactory, and (to discuss) what DOT is going to look for as they do their annual inspection and how that can be communicated back to Norfolk-Southern so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle,” Bergin said.
“Trying as this has been to get repaired, we hope this is the end of it,” he added. “In the future, if they find some deficits, we can get those corrected in a more timely manner.”
Susan Terpay, Norfolk-Southern spokeswoman for Georgia, said by email last week that she would check into the Cobb Street bridge situation, but she never sent further information.
DOT spokesman David Spear said he isn’t aware of any communication breakdowns, “nor do we know what the railroad and the town may have planned for the long term.”
He did say the DOT inspected the bridge as part of routine inspection activities “and found it deficient.”
“We ordered the railroad to close it, which it did,” Spear said. “Subsequently, the railroad made some repairs to the structure to allow it to be opened, but we have posted it for weights of no more than 3 tons.”
The bridge has somewhat of a checkered history.
“We’ve had the railroad to come in and offer to take it down ... and rebuild it for us, and we have declined that offer,” Mayor Milton Turner said. “We’ve looked at making it one-way, but people want it two-way, so we’ve left it that way.”
From a distance, Cobb Street bridge resembles a crooked finger reaching across dusty railroad tracks with the support of tall wooden beams. Another series of beams laid flat in a not-so-straight line over the bridge creates a narrow pedestrian path.
It’s not exactly your modern model, with postcard-pretty cables and glimmering steel.
But that’s OK by residents.
“That bridge makes the town,” Chambers said. “I think you can ask anybody in Lula: If you want a good fight, just let somebody threaten our bridge.”
She recalled when the railroad tried to “shut it down.”
“We got petitions and even had a lawsuit at one time ... to force the railroad to keep it in repair,” Chambers. “It has to be like it’s always been — it kind of identifies the town.”