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Editorial: Safer bridges ahead, and overdue
Efforts to upgrade Lake Laniers aging spans are underway, and none too soon
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We’ve all had this feeling: You’re driving along on your commute to work and what was a smooth highway now gives way to that grinding, sandpaper feeling beneath your wheels, like you’re driving across a waffle iron. It sets your teeth on edge, the rattle and roar vibrating in your ears and interrupting the radio program you’re listening to.

Now imagine that same feeling as you’re headed over Lake Lanier, dozens of feet above the water’s surface on an aging, worn, rough-surfaced bridge.

Thousands of commuters and travelers have to deal with this every day. When you live in an area surrounded by water from the state’s largest lake, there’s no easy route to avoid crossing these bridges, some of them as old as the lake itself dating from the Eisenhower administration.

Residents have expressed concern over this problem for years now, telling us how in some cases the top surface of the pavement on bridges has worn down to the point where the underlying concrete is exposed, making for a rough ride and major safety concerns.

The last thing anyone wants is a tragedy of a bridge collapse. Even shy of that, the uneven surfaces and narrow passages can wear on your vehicle and lead to accidents.

The Georgia Department of Transportation, thankfully, is in the process of replacing and upgrading Lake Lanier’s vital arteries. The DOT’s plans to do so hit a snag a few years ago during the Great Recession when funding for key state infrastructure projects dried up with other tax revenue. Then a statewide proposal for a special sales tax to fund transportation projects was voted down in most areas of the state, including North Georgia, as most voters didn’t trust their leaders to spend that money as intended.

But with tax revenue again flush and the state’s economy thriving, the DOT now has the funding it needs to proceed with the projects it has prioritized as being most vital. And none of those is more important than upgrading bridges.

Easing highway traffic is a major concern for both economic and convenience reasons. But the roads that travel over water are even more vital for safety reasons, and need to be at the head of the DOT’s to-do list.

Clarks Bridge was first up for replacement, with work completed last year. Boling Bridge, the Dawsonville Highway span over the Chestatee River at the Hall-Forsyth county line and home to osprey nests in its superstructure, is next in line to be replaced at a cost of $23.2 million, with short-term repairs to the old structure now underway. After that come replacements for two bridges on U.S. 129 and Browns Bridge, which may be in the worse shape of all according to some residents.

In all, about $71 million is aimed at replacing or upgrading five bridges that are long overdue for the work. (Read more on the projects here, plus an interactive map of the bridges).

“These bridges are 60 years old. Good gosh, they’re only designed to last about 50,” Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said at a recent transportation forum in Hall County. “They’ve done pretty good, but it’s time to move on.”

Residents are relieved to see the work finally underway, but some remain apprehensive, hoping it will be finished before the safety concerns get any worse. As the area’s population has grown and the manufacturing and commercial sectors have expanded in kind, the increased truck and car traffic has accelerated erosion of the surfaces on these bridges. Getting the work completed can’t happen soon enough for those who have to cross the lake on a regular basis.

We’re thankful the work is underway, but like those who have been waiting for years to see it happen, we’re anxious to see the DOT follow-through. Any additional delays from funding or construction snags could jeopardize motorists’ safety and hamstring the area’s future commercial growth.

Lake Lanier is an economic asset to North Georgia in so many ways. But unless we’re all ready to commute to work by canoe, there has to be a more secure way to cross over its sparkling waters.

To send a letter to the editor, use this form or send to The Times editorial board includes Publisher Charlotte Atkins, General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas.