County commissioners last week opted for new guard rails and safety caution signs rather than closing an aging bridge in southern Dawson County.
In a 3-0 vote, the board agreed that shutting down Black's Mill Bridge is not the answer at this time.
"There are a lot of people that use that bridge daily," said Gary Pichon, District 1 commissioner. "I don't want to put a burden on those citizens that live out on the south side of the bridge."
Nearby residents agree.
Speaking on behalf of nearly three dozen residents who live south of the bridge on Black's Mill Road, Cathy Holcombe told commissioners that closing the crossing would cause hardship and present safety issues for herself and her neighbors.
"Residents on Wildwood Court travel to and from work and cross the bridge to get to their destination," she said. "With boats, tractors and extended trailers owned by residents, it is necessary to travel the bridge to enter and exit Wildwood Court. The turn from the other side of Black's Mill Road is too sharp and at an angle that makes turning impossible."
Holcombe also expressed concern that residents will see higher insurance rates when providers determine the distance from the neighborhood to the closest fire station is longer.
"The firehouse on Dawson Forest Road is within the two mile radius; however, if insurance policies record the closest facility as seven to 10 miles away, homeowners will be expected to pay more," she said. "Now I realize the fire engine does not go across the bridge, but it is stated in our policy that the safety vehicles are within two miles."
Citing a list of needed exterior structural repairs, Dawson County Public Works director David Headley last month asked the commission to consider closing the bridge until funds are available to make the improvements.
"Some of the things we are looking at are the exterior safety components, such as guardrails, such as the approaches, such as the decking itself," he said. "Based on the longevity and the nature of those external components to that bridge is where we're saying it's structurally not sound."
Originally constructed in the early 1950s, Black's Mill Bridge is a single-lane wooden crossing deemed functionally obsolete by state transportation officials.
In its most recent evaluation, the bridge received a 44.78 rating out of 100 points from GDOT, down from 59.08 two years before.
Headley told commissioners the bridge is structurally safe for cars and trucks weighing less than 5 tons, but should be considered dangerous for heavier vehicles like buses and fire engines.
The guardrails, however, need immediate work, according to Dawson County Engineer Corey Gutherie.
"The guardrails could be pushed right over," he said.
"New safety caution signs should be up by the end of the month," according to Headley.
"Once we get estimates in on the railings, I will have a better idea as to when that will be completed," he said.
The cost to completely replace the single lane structure with a two lane paved road and 26-foot span arch culvert, which would significantly improve its DOT rating, could run as high as $325,000, according to Headley.
The upgrade could be considered for a future 1-cent tax project, commissioners have said.