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Dawsonville Highway bridge repairs may be on hold a bit longer
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Forsyth County News

GAINESVILLE — Uncertainty over federal transportation dollars beyond July 1 may mean motorists who have long had a bumpy ride over the Dawsonville Highway westbound bridge crossing Lake Lanier may have to wait a bit longer for relief.

The Georgia Department of Transportation had hoped to seek construction bids for a $3.3 million improvement project in April, with work taking place soon after.

Officials aren’t sure now when that will take place.

“We hope this calendar year,” district spokeswoman Teri Pope said last week.

DOT Commissioner Keith Golden told a Hall County audience on March 13 that federal money for roads is drying up long before the current spending law ends Sept. 30.

“Starting in July, we will not be authorizing any federal aid projects — or very few, if any at all,” he said.

“There will be no design dollars authorized, no rights of way purchased for federal-aid projects and no construction dollars going out the door until Congress gives us some kind of certainty as to what the future holds.”

The driving surface of the westbound Jerry Jackson Bridge, which crosses the Chattahoochee River portion of Lake Lanier, has been a longtime pain for drivers.

Temporary repairs were made in 2011, but DOT vowed to continue working toward a more lasting solution.

In March 2013, using a piece of equipment known as a “snooper” that can carry a person underneath an unwieldy structure, workers examined the bridge from top to bottom, officials said at the time.

The idea was to develop a more permanent improvement plan, said Billy Cantrell, district maintenance engineer.

At one point, DOT had hoped to award a repair contract in December, with work starting early this year.

When the bridge project finally goes forward, crews will repair the driving surface, which is rough because the epoxy coating “has worn off,” Pope said.

Also, new bridge joints will be replaced and the entire structure “will be painted to ensure rusting doesn’t occur, allowing repairs to last,” she added.

The Jerry Jackson Bridge was built in 1956 as one of the original structures on Lake Lanier. It is 1,216 feet long and 31 feet wide.

Both it and the eastbound bridge are heavily used, serving as main arteries to and from Gainesville and northwest Hall. Some 23,520 vehicles travel near the bridges daily, according to Georgia’s State Traffic and Report Statistics.

Unlike some other aging bridges on Lanier, such as the nearby Dawsonville Highway bridge over the Chestatee River arm of Lanier on the Forsyth county line, Jerry Jackson is not scheduled for replacement.

The east and west bridges there have four lanes combined, so “there’s not a capacity need there,” Pope has said.

“This repair plan should hopefully allow the bridge to last for several decades, if not longer,” she added.

Congress, meanwhile, is in the middle of debating reauthorizing the transportation spending law.

However, the Highway Trust Fund, the nation’s pool of transportation money, “is going to become insolvent around August,” Golden said. “To top it all off ... Congress has been borrowing money from the Bank of China to keep that trust fund up artificially.”

For the reauthorization, Congress is looking at ways to pour more money into the trust fund, which is supported by a fuel tax of 18.3 cents per gallon, and one of the options is raising that tax, the commissioner said.

“They’d have to raise it 10 cents per gallon immediately to get to where [the fund] needs to be, and that’s not a real popular solution.”