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Just how safe are Bulloch's bridges?
Inspections find 4 deficient, but not unsafe; most exceed standards
061313 BRIDGE 01
This bridge on Akins Pond Road over Mill Creek has been designated as structurally deficient by the Georgia Department of Transportation. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

While not in danger of closing or categorically unsafe, a group of Bulloch County bridges did not meet sufficiency requirements during the most recent round of inspections by transportation officials.
Four rural bridges, two surrounding Statesboro and another pair south of Brooklet, were deemed “structurally deficient” by inspectors, according to a Georgia Department of Transportation report submitted to Bulloch County leadership earlier this year. 
The bridges falling below the sufficiency mark — based on a series of ratings that can give a cumulative score of 100 — are located on County Road 927 (over Ash Branch, 11.6 miles southeast of Brooklet), Old River Road (over Ogeechee River overflow, 13.6 miles southeast of Brooklet), Akins Pond Road (over Mill Creek, 4.9 miles northwest of Statesboro), and Cypress Lake Road (over Dry Branch, 5 miles southwest of Statesboro).
The state department is required to inspect all bridges every two years, but local governments are most often responsible for repairing or replacing them. Following inspections, the reports are provided to local officials with recommendations for repairs.
According to David Spear, the press secretary for GDOT, a rating of “structurally deficient” does not mean a bridge is in danger of failure, “but that the deck, superstructure, or culvert of a bridge is rated in ‘poor’ condition.”
What the rating does mean, he said, is that a bridge needs to be closely monitored and likely will require significant maintenance or rehabilitation in the near future.
“The state department would close a bridge if it were truly a safety issue,” said Jill Nagel, the southeast Georgia district communications officer for GDOT. “A bridge will become closed before it ever becomes dangerous.”
Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch said engineers are planning to get work started on the bridges before conditions deteriorate much further.
“We had a meeting about (the report findings) a couple of months ago, and the engineers are currently working on using that information to formulate a plan to work on the bridges,” Couch said. “In my discussion with the county engineer, the bridges are still in a safe condition. But if you let it go on for a couple of years, and defer the maintenance, the problem will get worse. So, we are inclined to be proactive and deal with it.”
Money is already set aside for bridge maintenance (engineers noticed some ratings trending downward after 2009 reports) which could begin within the calendar year, he said.
“The county engineer is working to translate the information from reports to develop bid packages that can be sent out to contractors,” Couch said. “We are getting our plan together to get the work done.”
A renewed emphasis on bridge conditions emerged nationally after the May 24 collapse of an Interstate 5 highway bridge into Washington state’s Skagit River. 
The chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board called the event a wake-up call for the entire nation.
Couch believes a similar event is very unlikely locally.
“The good news is: The bridges that have been built through the county have been built really well. Maintenance may have fallen behind on a portion, but we can maintain them and I don’t foresee us having to put any new structures in,” he said. And, “we hopefully have enough money in the bridge inventory to where we won’t have to run into the ‘structurally deficient’ rating much more.”
Overall, inspectors rated 138 Bulloch County bridges last year.
Ratings of the four “structurally deficient” bridges were: 38.19 for County Road 927, 39.45 for Old River Road, 25.71 for Akins Pond Road, and 8.01 for Cypress Lake Road.
According to Transportation America, there are three key components to the structural safety of a bridge: the deck, the superstructure and the substructure.
Only the Akins Pond Road bridge was rated “poor” in either of the three categories (substructure). Reports cited “erosion at both abutments” and “failed deck joints” as issues with the bridge. 

Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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