Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Oconee County Citizens Will Get Chance To Review And Comment On Plans For Apalachee River Bridge Replacement At High Shoals

***Preferred Plan Calls For Lengthy Detour***

Citizens will have a chance on Thursday to comment on two plans for replacement of the bridge over the Apalachee River at High Shoals.

One of those plans would require a 15-month closing of the roadway and a nearly 16-mile detour of traffic.

The engineers hired by the Georgia Department of Transportation for the bridge replacement project prefer this option.

The second plan would leave the existing bridge in place and build another just upstream. No detour would be used, as the existing bridge would remain open during the 21 months of construction.

The meeting on the bridge plans from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday at Oconee Veterans Park, 3500 Hog Mountain Road, is the first of three meetings scheduled by GDOT this month dealing with Oconee County road projects.

GDOT will hold open houses on the plans for the widening of U.S. 441 from Madison to Watkinsville from 5 to 7 p.m. March 12 at the Morgan County High School cafeteria in Madison and from 5 to 7 p.m. March 19 at Oconee Veterans Park.

Rounding out meetings this week is a local session of the National Issues Forum, “A House Divided: What Would We Have to Give Up to Get the Political System We Want?” scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday at the Oconee County Library.

The National Issues Forum is a non-partisan, nationwide network of civic, educational, and other organizations and individuals interested in promoting public deliberation. The Oconee Progressives is the local sponsor of the session.

Jan. 9 Meeting

GDOT and its consultants presented the two alternatives for the replacement of the bridge of SR 186 over the Apalachee at High Shoals at a meeting Jan. 9 at the Bishop Community Center.

Wilton And GDOT Colleagues, 1/9/2019

The meeting was not advertised, but Katie Tiller from The Oconee Enterprise and Sarah Bell attended.

Also in attendance were Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell, county Fire Chief Bruce Thaxton, county EMA Director C.J. Worden, North High Shoals Mayor Toby Bradberry, North High Shoals Council Member Violet Dawe, and Bishop Mayor Johnny Pritchett.

Darren Wilton, traffic engineer at Moffatt and Nichol, an infrastructure advisory firm with offices in Atlanta, ran the meeting.

Moffatt and Nichol have the contract for design of the SR 186 bridge as well as for the Short Creek Bridge in Warren County and the Big Indian Creek Bridge in Morgan County.

Status Of Current Bridge

Wilton began the meeting by saying that “I want to emphasize that the existing 468-foot bridge is not structurally up to standard, not structurally sufficient for the long term. That’s why we’re here.”

That bridge was built in 1958 and has very limited shoulders, Wilton said.

The bridge gets a rating of 30 out of 100 by GDOT, Wilton said, though he and his colleagues subsequently acknowledged that the bridge does not have any current weight restrictions and is not in need of immediate replacement.

Current length of the bridge is 468 feet.

Project Details

The new bridge will be 500 feet in length and will include 12-foot travel lanes in each direction with 8 feet of shoulders on each side.

The project includes a re-alignment of SR 316 with Jefferson Road on the Oconee County side of the bridge.

The project is currently in concept phase, Wilton said.

The next stage is preliminary design, followed by right of way purchase in January of 2020 and the letting for construction in 2021.

At present, two alignment alternatives are under consideration.

The first is to build the replacement largely on the site of the current bridge, necessitating the closing of the bridge and the detour during construction.

The second is to build a new bridge just upstream from the current bridge, leaving the current bridge intact during construction.


Wilton said that the existing dam at the bridge creates limitations because the bridge cannot be built on top of it.

The design also needs to work around the intake at the bridge for the power plant below it.

The area also is a designated historical area that needs to be preserved, Wilton said.

“The idea is that the closer we can stay to that existing alignment the less likely we are to impact the environmental resources in the area,” Wilton said.

Preferred Alternative

Building the new bridge on the site of the current bridge only impacts two parcels, Wilton said. One of those would have to be replaced.

Picture Of Map Of Detour Route

The preferred alternative requires .86 acres of right of way, impacts 144 linear feet of the river, and requires 15 months for construction.

The detour route, from Good Hope in Walton County to Bishop in Oconee County, would add 15.8 miles to a trucker’s route, Wilton said.

That route would use SR 83 from Good Hope to Monroe, U.S. 78 from Monroe to Hog Mountain Road in Oconee County, Hog Mountain Road and Experiment Station Road to the Watkinsville Bypass, and then U.S. 441 to Bishop.

Local Traffic would not be closed except at the bridge, Wilton said, and the cost would be $7.1 million.

Second Alternative

The second alternative that Wilton and his colleagues presented involves shifting the bridge 50 to 100 feet to the west, or upstream.

Five different property owners will be impacted, Wilton said, with two of the buildings on the Oconee side displaced.

It requires 2.2 acres of right of way and impacts 372 linear feet of the stream.

Traffic would remain on the existing bridge during construction, Wilton said, and after construction the contractor would shift traffic to the new bridge and demolish the old bridge.

Construction would take 21 months and cost $7.5 million. That cost figure, however, does not include the cost of any mitigation that would be required because of the project’s impact on the historic and archeological resources of the site.

“There’s some history there we would prefer not to impact if possible,” Wilson said. “It does have some historical significance to the community.”

“We do think that the offsite detour is definitely the least impactful and is the preferred alternative at this moment,” Wilson said.

Concerns Of North High Shoals

North High Shoals Mayor Bradberry and Council Member Dawe raised a number of concerns about the project in the discussion that followed the presentation by Wilton and his colleagues.

Dawe said lot of people downstream from bridge are concerned about the impact of the demolition.

Wilton and others said the process will be highly regulated following federal standards for protection of the stream and its wildlife.

Bradberry asked about ways to make the bridge itself more attractive.

Dawe suggested use of stone in places to cover the concrete.

Both suggested that the bridge accommodate bicyclists.


The video below is of the meeting held on Jan. 9 at the Bishop Community Center.

I did not attend the meeting because I was out of town.

Bell recorded the video below.

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