County, railroad back and forth over future of wooden bridge
by SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
Coweta County is hoping to set up a meeting with representatives of Norfolk Southern Railway to determine the future of the railroad bridge on Arnco Main Street.
The bridge, one of the last remaining wooden bridges in Coweta County, was closed on Feb. 4, following an inspection by the Georgia Department of Transportation. The inspection found rot and decay in the deck and the substructure.
According to a letter sent to the county by Andy Doyle, state bridge maintenance engineer, the bridge was in “critical condition” and required immediate closing.
The bridge is owned by Norfolk Southern, but the railroad company hasn’t indicated any desire to spend money fixing it. Instead, in the one letter the railroad has sent to the county, a railroad official suggested he would work with the county to secure federal and state funds, and suggested a federal bridge repair program that no longer exists.
In February, Coweta County Commissioner Tim Lassetter sent the railroad a letter asking that the bridge be repaired. Lassetter says in the letter that since the bridge was closed “I have received numerous phone calls from constituents in the area asking that the bridge be repaired or replaced and reopened in the near future.”
The county received no response to that letter and sent another one on May 3, saying that the county continues to receive requests from citizens affected by the bridge closure for updates. Associate County Administrator Eddie Whitlock asks for a response for an estimated time that Norfolk Southern will repair or replace the bridge.
The county got a response to that letter on May 30. E.L Jackson, engineer for public improvements with Norfolk Southern, says he’d like to see the railroad and the county “jointly work together” to obtain federal and state funds for the bridge repair. Jackson says he thinks the bridge replacement would qualify for funding from the Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program.
Jackson says that, historically, the railroad has contributed about 10 percent to bridge replacement under that program “in exchange of being relived of future maintenance responsibility.”
He further includes a copy of the railroad’s guidelines for bridges “to assist your engineers in the design and scheduling of the project.”
Coweta officials expressed concerns with that proposal in a letter dated June 5. Projects under the HBRRP program typically take years of planning, and Whitlock says he’s not sure the project would be eligible for federal funding because of the grade change between the bridge and Ga. Hwy. 16 West. Plus, it’s a low volume bridge for residential use.
The bridge replacement program Jackson suggested doesn’t exist anymore, anyway. It was eliminated in the transportation bill that was approved by Congress last July, as stated in a letter from GDOT on June 18.
Coweta’s last letter to Jackson was dated June 24, and Whitlock requests a meeting with railroad officials to discuss “alternatives to expedite the reopening of this valued route into the community of Arnco.”
There are alternative routes to get around the bridge. The closest one is a grade crossing at Bibb Drive. Other detours are Glover Road and Henry Bryant Road.