An iconic bridge in southwest Dawson County was closed last month after an inspection by the Georgia Department of Transportation deemed the bridge not safe for vehicular travel.
Black’s Mill bridge sits a quarter of a mile back on Black’s Mill Road, a single-lane gravel road off Dawson Forest Road. The bridge was closed July 19, much to the dismay of local residents who use the road to get onto Dawson Forest.
The weight-restricted, 28-foot long wooden bridge over Black’s Mill Creek was built in 1953 and, according to Public Works Director David McKee, is no longer salvageable.
“The steel beams, there’s nothing left of them. They’ve deteriorated to the point where it's not safe,” he said.
Commissioners debated closing the bridge in July 2013 when it was declared “functionally obsolete” by GDOT. Instead, new guardrails were installed and safety caution signs were placed near the bridge, prolonging the bridge’s life.
“We are at the point where there is no maintenance can be done to the bridge to have GDOT allow us to reopen it,” McKee said.
The average daily travel for the bridge is 190 vehicles.
There are two detour routes for the 15 residents McKee said are “directly affected” and many more that are also affected.
The shortest, a 5.5 mile or 10 minute detour, takes residents down Harry Sosebee Road to Lumpkin Campground Road to Dawson Forest Road and back to where they would be if they were able to access the bridge. Another option would be to take Goodson Road back to Dawson Forest.
McKee presented three solutions to the board of commissioners at its work session last week.
The first, which McKee recommended, would be for the board to allow staff to continue to work with GDOT on finding a bridge assistance program that could help, particularly the surplus bridge program.
GDOT takes surplus bridges from somewhere else in the state and gives the bridges to counties with plans on how they should be installed, Mckee said. The county would then have contractors come in to do the work.
“The issue with the surplus bridge program is timing- they currently do not have one but they believe they will have one very soon,” McKee said. “In our district we are the only ones that have asked for assistance with the surplus bridge program.”
Another program, GDOT’s low impact bridge program, can fast-track permitting and assistance to build a new one, but are required to put in a two-lane, 24-foot bridge with right of way.
McKee said he did not recommend the option due to cost and because of the topographic features that limit the bridge to one lane, particularly the 15-foot waterfall and rock wall to the north of the bridge, part of an historic rock quarry and mill.
A second option could use emergency funds to build a new bridge to eliminate the wait for a surplus bridge. The cost could be upwards of $500,000 to $700,000.
A third option would be to do nothing for the time being.
McKee recommended the surplus bridge route, stating that the cost could be significantly less to the county, around $150,000 to $200,000.
McKee said one of the benefits of obtaining a surplus bridge is that it would not be weight-restricted like the current bridge, allowing school buses and emergency vehicles to travel that way when previously they have not.
Several residents asked if they could speak, all requesting that the bridge reopen as soon as possible.
“I’ve been traveling that bridge for 32 years and I’ve talked with a lot of people who it's taking them longer to get their kids to Black’s Mill [Elementary] school,” said Wildwood Court resident Cathy Holcombe. “It just seems so crazy to go five miles one way to get where we were able to get to in one mile. It just adds up over time, so we would love for it to stay open.”