County bridge needs emergency repairs

State deemed it unsafe for school buses

— County officials took emergency steps this week to begin shoring up a bridge near an elementary school in light of a state decision to declare it unsafe for buses.

Commissioners gave transportation and development Director Jeff Metarko emergency permission this week to waive the sealed bid process for replacing the Brown Road bridge near Jonesboro. Commissioners also approved a $23,707 contract with Atlanta-based McCarthy Improvements/Bellamy Bridge Builders for the work. The funding comes from the 2009 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax fund.

Contract compliance Manager Carol Rogers told the commission the bridge is no longer sturdy enough to continue supporting the weight of school buses. The state has set its maximum load capacity at 5 tons.

“The new posted limit is lower than the capacity required for school buses,” Rogers said. “This situation causes difficulties in the routing of school buses.”

County and state documents show officials are moving quickly to address the bridge issue, with the potential for construction work to begin shortly.

Andy Doyle, a state bridge maintenance engineer with the Georgia Department of Transportation, told commission Chairman Jeff Turner about the issue in a May 2 letter. The letter states a county official was verbally informed about the weight capacity reduction a day earlier.

“This structure requires a load reduction due to deterioration of the timber cap,” Doyle wrote. “If this structure is located on a school bus route, this change in posting may require a rerouting of school buses. It is the responsibility of the driver of the school bus, as with all Commercial Drivers Licenses holders, to abide by all applicable laws regarding load restrictions on any bridge structure.”

The bridge is near Brown Elementary School, which makes it part of the route buses take to get students to school. Turner said waiving the sealed bid process allows the county to complete repairs before the school year begins.

Metarko told commissioners the repair work would take about a month to complete, which necessitated an early summer start.

But, while county officials are worrying about the bridge’s current capacity to support school buses, school officials are not panicking.

School system spokesman David Waller said that’s because the district stopped sending buses over the bridge two years ago when its inspectors raised concerns.

“Our folks went out there and saw that it was not to our satisfaction so we stopped sending buses over the bridge,” Waller said. “Sometimes we jump before they [the county and state officials] jump and this was one of those times. If the county patches the bridge to our satisfaction, then we may resume sending buses over that bridge.”