Commissioners consider options for saving historic bridge

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Walker County Commissioners discussed several options for saving Country Club Bridge, including reopening it to pedestrians only, during a Thursday work session.

The 123-year-old bridge, also known as Camak Bridge, was closed in April 2020 after Assistant County Engineer and Bridge Inspector of Record Glenn Peek discovered significant structural issues. An underwater inspection showed that the lateral bracing had become detached on one approach pier and that one of the steel piles of the bridge had concrete missing under the water’s surface.

The bridge is the located near Musgrove Country Club. At the time of its closure, it was the oldest bridge in the state still open to traffic.

The minimum cost of repairing the bridge for vehicular traffic is around $260,000.

To reopen the bridge with its previous three-ton weight limit, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) will likely require an in-depth structural review, according to Peek. Because ALDOT stopped reviewing truss bridges several years ago, the county can expect to pay an additional $100,000 to a private company, which might in turn find issues that would prevent the bridge from opening or drive up the cost of more repairs, Peek said.

"It's the truss bridge itself that will cause the most problems. Replacing parts of it, I can't even find anybody who has done it recently. If you go to replace a pin, you basically have to hold up the end of the bridge with a crane to get the pins in there," Peek said.

District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis said that based on numerous conversations he has had with state Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, and state Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, the county is unlikely to receive state funds to repair the bridge.

"Personally, I'd love to fix the bridge, redo the whole thing and make it a showpiece, but spending that kind of money is not feasible at this time. State money is very limited for this situation because they have to look at bridges all across the state," Davis said.

In response to a question from Chairman Steve Miller about whether the bridge's historical nature could help, county engineer Mike Short said it would be more likely to drive up the cost of repairs because any funding would come with strings attached related to preservation requirements.

"You could probably build a brand new bridge adjacent to this bridge for half the cost of redoing that bridge," Short said of a full preservation project.

In contrast, the county could expect to pay in the ballpark of $42,000 with most of the work being done in-house to reopen to pedestrian traffic.

The county could also install signs noting the historical significance of the bridge, Peek added. 

The detour resulting from the closure of the bridge is relatively short, about five and a half miles, according to Davis.

"There are some bridges that we have that the detour would be 30 miles," Short said.

Davis said he welcomes community feedback on how residents would like the commission to proceed.  

"This bridge has a lot of sentimental value and is very important to that community. We've been working on this for several months to come up with a feasible plan. We know we're not going to make everybody happy," Davis said.

Short also gave a report on two other bridge projects. Construction should get underway this year on Brown's Bridge and Smith's Chapel Bridge. 

The cost of those projects is approximately $2 million for Brown's Bridge and $1 million for Smith's Chapel Bridge.

The county is responsible for 20 percent of the cost, or $600,000 for both projects. 

The county should be able to use the $400,000 it is set to receive annually in federal aid exchange funds to help offset the expense, according to Short.