Norfolk Southern Railroad is proposing to tear down the historic Cobb Street bridge in Lula and contribute $100,000 to the town.
But local officials are not happy with that proposal.
Mayor Milton Turner said Tuesday he is determined to preserve the bridge — “if it’s nothing but a walking structure.”
He said a likely next step is “more dialogue with the railroad,” but nothing along that line has been set up.
“We would like for the city of Lula to consider a proposal by Norfolk Southern to remove the existing bridge at our cost,” Chris Bennett, system engineer for public improvements, bridges and structures, said in a letter to the city Monday. “After removal of the bridge, Norfolk Southern would make a cash contribution in an amount of 10 percent of a hypothetical bridge replacement project described above, reduced by the bridge demolition cost. Based on estimates of the hypothetical new structure and demolition costs, our lump sum, cash contribution to the city would be $100,000.”
The bridge has been closed since fall 2015 when the Georgia Department of Transportation said it no longer was safe. GDOT said the bridge should be replaced.
“Upon our review, we concur with this recommendation,” the letter from Norfolk Southern says. “The bridge is reported to have been first constructed in 1917 and is functionally obsolete and at the end of its useful life.”
The wooden structure is in the middle of town and links the two sides of town, residents say.
Bridges have typically been replaced with about 80 percent of the cost being paid with federal money, but because of the Cobb Street bridge’s “existing roadway geometry and very steep grade coming off the bridge,” the railroad says, it is unlikely to meet federal guidelines for the money.
Richard Harris, director of corporate communications with Norfolk Southern, said the railroad is willing to help the city “identify alternative locations” for the bridge.
Asked about making it a pedestrian structure, Harris said that is not part of the railroad’s proposal, but “we obviously are in discussions with the city now about how best to resolve the bridge issue.”
He said Norfolk Southern officials believe the proposal is “a good long-term solution” that would provide a “modern structure designed and built for (today’s) safety standards.”
Turner said a final decision “is still a long ways from being done.”
Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin said, by email, that the council will look “at what specific options” might be available. He said the city would seek help from the GDOT and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins’ office.
“As this matter is of significant importance to the community, we would anticipate a thorough evaluation as the city considers a constructive response to the options available,” Bergin said. The council’s next meeting is Monday.