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Lanier bridges may be replaced
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Browns Bridge is among four slated for replacement - photo by File photo

For Dieter Jager, Browns Bridge at the Hall-Forsyth County line can’t be replaced soon enough.

From his house on the Hall side, overlooking Lake Lanier, the noise of heavy trucks traveling over the bridge’s aging and — in some places — crumbling driving surface “is unbelievable, especially first thing in the mornings.”

“But my concern isn’t so much the noise pollution as the safety issue,” said Jager, who has lived in the area north of Browns Bridge Road since 1968.

Help might be on the way over the next few years, not just for Browns Bridge, but other crossings on Lake Lanier that were built at the same time as the lake, in the mid-1950s.

Four bridges are targeted for replacement, as reflected in the 2015-20 phase of the Hall County region’s 2040 transportation plan, which is under development and set for completion in August.

“A major part of bridge replacements is bringing them up to current design standards,” said Teri Pope, Georgia Department of Transportation district spokeswoman.

“These bridges are almost 60 years old. Think of everything that has changed since 1955, 1956 and 1957, when these bridges and Lake Lanier were built.”

Still, none of the projects will be overnight efforts. The DOT plans to start acquiring right of way in 2015-16 for the Browns Bridge replacement. Construction is scheduled for 2017-18 at an estimated cost of $16.1 million.

Also planned for replacement is Boling Bridge on Dawsonville Highway, a green-beamed structure that connects Hall and Forsyth counties over the Chestatee River arm of the lake.

Right-of-way acquisition is completed and the $12.8 million project has been scheduled for bids in March.

However, progress may be hampered because Congress did not fully fund transportation in fiscal 2014-15.

“Congress will have to address federal funding before June 2015,” Pope said. “Based on that outcome, GDOT will advance the projects that are on hold as funding allows.”

The DOT also is eyeing bridge replacements on Cleveland Highway at the Chattahoochee River and Little River, both waterways that flow into the northeast end of Lanier.

For both bridges, right-of-way acquisition is scheduled to begin in 2015-16 and construction in 2016-17. The Chattahoochee bridge is estimated to cost $10.8 million and the Little River bridge $7.4 million.

Another bridge over the lake being looked at for improvement is the Jerry Jackson bridge on Dawsonville Highway, which leads in and out of Gainesville .

The DOT is planning a $2.2 million project “that includes an epoxy injection or repair of the epoxy coating on the driving surface that is now patched,” new bridge joints between concrete sections of the bridge deck, a new driving surface and painting the truss system, Pope said.

That project is in a similar holding pattern as Boling Bridge further west.

On both the Dawsonville Highway and Browns Bridge Road bridges, the top quarter-inch of the driving surface is an epoxy coating “that can be patched, (but) it doesn’t hold for long.”

In the meantime, Pope said, “motorists can improve their ride and extend the life of the driving surface by slowing down.”

The biggest “new standard” motorists will notice with the new bridges is the addition of shoulders, Pope said.

None of the lake bridges targeted for replacement have them now, “so if your vehicle breaks down or you are in a crash on the bridge, there is no place to get out of traffic,” she said.

Also, each new bridge will be built parallel to the existing structure with the aim of reducing impact to everyday traffic.

When traffic is shifted to the new structure, the original bridge will be demolished.

Such is the case with Clarks Bridge now under construction on the Chattahoochee River arm of Lanier. That bridge is taking shape as concrete has been poured for four of the seven spans.

The $8.7 million project calls for the new bridge to have 12-foot lanes and an 8-foot bike path in each direction. As part of the work, a pedestrian tunnel has been built under Clarks Bridge Road at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue.

The overall project completion date is Dec. 31.

The bridge work dominates the early part of the 2040 plan, which is being crafted by the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Hall area’s main transportation planning agency.

The projects, as with most of the short-term recommendations, were included in the previous version of the regional transportation plan as well as the region’s five-year plan, said Richard Fangmann, transportation planning director for Pond & Co., the Norcross firm helping the MPO.

“Many of these short-term projects have already undergone additional planning and engineering work and have funding programmed for implementation,” he said.

Fangmann said the work shows the DOT is trying “to be proactive in replacing bridges that have reduced physical or functional capability.”

Over the years, the Lanier bridges have been judged as “structurally deficient.”

In a 2011 investigation by The Times, four of 12 bridges over Lanier had a sufficiency rating below 40 on a 0-100 scale, with 50 considered deficient.

Pope has said the DOT inspects every bridge every two years “and more often if needed based on the condition of the bridge,” then makes decisions on sufficiency ratings.