Wooden bridges problematic

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 29, 2004

Covington County has the most bridges out of any county in the state with a weight limit of 3 tons, and many of those bridges need to be remodeled, according to Donnie Franklin, transportation supervisor for Covington County schools.

"There are a lot of the bridges that have a limit of 3 tons (or less)," Franklin said. "Many of those bridges are old and (made of) wood."

Franklin added the state recently conducted a survey and found Covington county having the most bridges in Alabama with such a low weight limit. He added the weight of a bus is 29,000 pounds. One ton is 2,000 pounds.

Franklin said he would need to get with the County Engineer (Darren Capps) to evaluate them, because there are many of the bridges "we don't cross."

"We just have to evaluate every one," Franklin added.

Currently it is costing the transportation department more money to avoid the bridges than it would cost to replace the bridges, said Franklin.

"I think it is very important to have the bridges redone," he said. "It is costing us $2.50 for every mile we re-route to avoid the bridges we can't cross."

Franklin said the most a bus driver would have to detour to avoid a bridge is approximately seven to eight miles, but those miles add up quickly.

"You take those seven to eight miles, and multiply it times two for each day. Then you apply the maintenance and upkeep of a bus and the cost of gas. It adds up," he said.

Hurricane Opal destroyed a number of the bridges in the county, and County Commissioner Glen Powell said approximately 70 of the bridges have been rebuilt. But he added the county is only about at the half-way point.

"If the busses (stay off the bridges), and come all the way around, they're about 10 miles out of their way to pick up the kids," Powell said of some of the routes. "We've replaced about 70 or 75 bridges, but we have that many to go. We're only half-way in the battle."

Powell said the commission is trying to work on grants to fund the renovation of the bridges, but a bond issue is holding them back.

"We need to close the first (state) bond issue before we open another one," he said.

A number of disasters in the county, including a flood, tornado, and hurricane in the past 10 years haven't helped matters, added Powell.

According to Powell, it is extremely important busses do not travel over the bridges because of the safety of the children.

"You could lose a school bus, and some kids could get killed (if a bus travels over a 3-ton limit bridge)," he said.

Another potential scare would be garbage routes, added Powell.

"If (a garbage truck) comes across a (3-ton limit bridge), and if he's loaded will probably weigh 15-18 tons; if he comes across and the next (vehicle) is a school bus, the bridge is already broken in. The bus will plow into the side of the bank."

Some of the money the commission gets from the state for resurfacing roads could be used for the bridges if it weren't for the fact of it being earmarked, said Powell.

"The only thing we can use the (resurfacing) money for is the roads," he said.

Powell added some of the bridges need to be replaced more than some of the roads need resurfacing.