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Repairing the bridges of Kershaw County - Part 2 of 2

Nineteen of 21 county-owned bridges that cross water need repair or replacement

Posted: August 14, 2014 8:21 p.m.
Updated: August 15, 2014 6:00 a.m.
Photos courtesy of Michael Baker Corp./

A view across the Vaughn Mill Road bridge, also north of Camden, over Sanders Creek. It is not in as poor shape as the Clyburn Road bridge, but is too low to meet federal floodplain standards. While it only needs about $5,000 in repairs, replacing it could cost $920,000.

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There are 21 bridges that cross bodies of water in Kershaw County owned and, therefore, maintained by the county. Of those, 19 need some level of repair or need to be replaced. In addition, there are two other bridges that are out-of-service that also need to be replaced.

It would cost only $95,000 to make repairs to 12 of those bridges. However, five of those bridges should be replaced instead of merely repaired, according to a study conducted by the Michael Baker Corporation (formerly known as The LPA Group) on behalf of Kershaw County; there are another nine that should be replaced and cannot be repaired.

Should the county repair those bridges suggested by Baker and repair those that need fixing but not replacement, the county would need to come up with $4.19 million. One bridge alone -- Vaughn Mill Pond Road over Sanders Creek (listed as Sanders Branch in Baker documents) near S.C. 97 north of Camden -- needs $5,000 in repairs, but Baker suggests replacing it with a new bridge at a cost of $920,000.

The study

According to Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter, Baker conducted a study in 2013 of all 23 bridges. The study fills a huge binder, with sections devoted to a complete look at each bridge, including maps, photographs, introduction, findings, hydraulic inspection and analysis, recommendations and a summary.

Near the front of the binder is a prioritization list. Each bridge is given a rating based on 100 percent (for bridges that require no repair or replacement). The prioritization list also spells out the costs of needed repairs and/or replacement. The lower the rating, the higher the priority.

On the following page is a different prioritization chart. All the bridges are in the same order, but the second list includes each bridge’s overall National Bridge Inventory (NBI) Rating. The NBI and five other criteria -- water adequacy or overtopping, freeboard adequacy, detour length of crossing, U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) classification, and wetlands permitting effort -- were used to determine each bridge’s priority.

A “0” on the NBI scale means the bridge is out of service and “beyond corrective action.” A “1” means that it is in imminent danger of failing. The NBI scale reaches 9 for those bridges in excellent condition. Waterway adequacy deals with how well water flows under the bridge. Freeboard adequacy measures how much clearance there is above the water. Detour length of crossing rates how far drivers must drive to avoid the bridge (a high rating, “10,” is given to those of less than a mile; the scale drops to 7, 5, 3 and 1 for increasing distances of 1 to 2, 2 to 4, 4 to 10 and more than 10 miles, respectively). The FEMA classification appraises the stream with respect to floodplains, while wetlands permitting efforts rate how much work would be required to obtain permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

“All of the projects involve streams that are regulated by the (USACE) under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act,” Baker wrote in the report. “Therefore, each would require coordination with the USACE prior to construction.”

Clyburn Road bridge

With all the above factors in play, the bridge of highest priority among those listed as still open -- and it would have to be replaced -- is one on Clyburn Road crossing Little Flat Rock Creek. It garnered a 17.9 rating out of 100. The cost: $350,000. The bridge is about three miles downstream from the only state-owned bridge that will be replaced under a special federal-aid program. As reported Wednesday, the McDowell Road bridge, also crossing Little Flat Rock Creek, was deemed eligible for what are known as Act 98 funds, one of only 90 in South Carolina.

Both bridges on Clyburn and McDowell roads are load restricted. The McDowell Road bridge is limited to 5 tons per axle and 7 tons gross. The Clyburn Road bridge is more restricted at only 3 tons per axle and 5 tons gross. Baker described the bridge as a “two span timber bridge with a 12-foot, 3-inch (and) 14-foot 10-inch span arrangement for a total length of 27 feet (and) 1 inch with a clear roadway width of approximately 16 feet four inches.”

Baker’s overall summary of the bridge indicates that it is supposed to be closed, but that it is still being used.

“The existing bridge is currently in-service but appears that it was previously closed to traffic and the traveling public has bypassed the closure berm,” Baker wrote. “The bridge should be closed immediately utilizing a more permanent method.”

“It is closed; we just moved the berms so property owners can access their property,” Carpenter said, explaining that the original berms blocked off access to those properties. “I don’t think they were ever going over the bridge.”

A few of the Clyburn Road bridge’s decking boards are split, allowing excess water to drain on the substructure. Its beams are listed in “good” condition, but Baker noted that all the beams were “wet with approximately 15 percent section loss” at one of its abutments on the days in March 2013 that it inspected the bridge.

Abutments are retaining walls supporting the ends of a bridge. The Clyburn Road bridge has three, the third of which had “wing walls both rated in poor condition since they were not functioning properly and signs of erosion were present.

There are no bearings on the bridge, meaning that the beams rest directly on the timber caps -- which are placed on top of supporting piles or posts -- of the bridge’s substructure. Two of the timber caps were listed in “fair” condition showing “minor splitting and presence of rot.”

Part of a bridge’s substructure is called a “bent” -- a rigid frame commonly used to support beams and girders. Although Baker rated all of the individual elements of a bent at the third abutment in fair condition, the firm noted it was “racked” 6 inches in the opposite direction that it should. The firm, therefore, rated the abutment as “imminent failure condition.”

Baker noted that all the elements of the bridge’s interior bent (supporting the middle of the bridge) were in satisfactory condition, also but downgraded that bent’s overall rating to “imminent failure condition,” noting that it was racked 12 inches in the wrong direction.

In its overall summary, Baker also noted that Little Flat Rock Creek’s 25-year flood elevation at that point is above the existing bridge deck and that the frequency of water overtopping the deck is less than every 10 years.

Therefore, Baker is recommending the Clyburn Road bridge be completely replaced.

Vaughn Mill Pond Road bridge

The Vaughn Mill Pond bridge, near S.C. 97, is not in as poor condition as the Clyburn Road bridge. It’s No. 11 on the county’s prioritization list. It could be one of the less expensive to repair, but Baker recommends it be entirely replaced -- for nearly $1 million. It received a rating of 44 out of 100.

Like the Clyburn Road bridge, the Vaughn Mill Pond Road bridge is a two span timber bridge. It is a bit wider, however, with one span being 15 feet 10 inches, the other 16 feet 10 inches for a total length of 32 feet 8 inches. Clear roadway width is 17 feet 5 inches. Like Clyburn Road, this bridge is also load restricted to 3 tons per axle and 5 tons gross.

Baker reported the timber deck and beams were in good condition, with only minor splitting on the beams. It listed the abutments in good condition, showing only minor deficiencies and a small presence of rot. While Baker reported some local scouring from water flow, it rated Vaughn Mill Pond Road bridge’s interior bents as being in satisfactory condition.

“The bridge requires some maintenance and repair to continue good serviceability,” Baker wrote in its report.

It recommended inspections be conducted every two years; cleaning up vegetation around, near and under the bridge; and modifying a timber railing to satisfy a higher rating. Those measures would cost $5,000.

When Baker examined the bridge’s hydraulics, however -- using the waterway adequacy, freeboard adequacy and FEMA classification measures -- they found a problem. Not only is the 25-year flood plain of Sanders Creek above the existing deck, with an overtopping frequency of 10 to 25 years, but in order to pass FEMA water flow standards, the deck would have to be raised approximately 12 feet.

Baker’s recommendation is “to replace the existing 32-foot 8-inch bridge with a 100-foot long bridge to satisfy all Kershaw County and FEMA design criteria. The replacement cost: $920,000. Otherwise, Baker said, “structural repairs need to be made to portions of the bridge if replacement is not performed in the near future.”

The other bridges

In order of priority, the other in-service bridges are Gates Ford Road over Gates Ford Branch ($45,000 replacement), Pine Bark Road over Flat Rock Creek *$21,000 repairs, $400,000 replacement), West Road over Horton Pond Branch ($16,000 repairs), Field Trial Road over Berkley Branch ($12,000 repairs, $380,000 replacement), West Drive over Beaver Dam Creek ($13,000 repairs), Stover Road over Dry Branch ($65,000 replacement), Jordan Mill Pond Road over Beaver Dam Creek ($2,000 repairs, $190,000 replacement), McLeod Road over a tributary of Gum Swamp Creek ($25,000 replacement), Beaver Dam Road over Beaver Dam Creek ($35,000 replacement), Doc Pate Road over Buffalo Creek ($230,000 replacement), Ralph Jones Road over a tributary of Lynches River ($95,000 replacement), Hiltons Lane over Grannies Quarter Creek ($6,000 repairs, $215,000 replacement), English Road over Big Pine Tree Creek ($3,000 repairs, $290,000 replacement), Davis Road over a fork of Cow Branch ($25,000 replacement), Spears Road over Cow Branch ($2,000 repairs), Doc Pate Road over Little Buffalo Creek ($13,000 repairs) and Shirley Creek Road over Shirley Creek ($2,000 repairs).

The two closed crossings are Beaver Creek Cemetery at Beaver Creek, with a 25 rating and a replacement cost of $455,000; and Kelly Road over Grannies Quarter Creek, with a 35 rating and a replacement cost of $425,000.

That leaves only two in-service bridges with 100 percent ratings, meaning they do not need repairs or to be replaced. Both are double culvert systems. One is on Charlie Johnson Road over South Buffalo Creek, several miles east of Mt. Pisgah Road. The other is on Hickory Head Road over Grannies Quarter Creek between U.S. 521 and Old Georgetown Road West.

Paying for it

The question, of course, is how the county can afford to conduct all the bridge repairs and replacements.

Carpenter said that none of the projects are currently budgeted.

“We received the study not long ago,” he said. “Our intention is that when we start our budget planning and goal setting process, this will be part of what council will use. It’s a piece of information council must take into consideration when looking at the budget for next (fiscal) year.”

That process will start in January.

Carpenter said the only money currently being raised for roads is from a $30 annual vehicle tax.

“That generates enough money just to mow grass, fix potholes and fix signs. If we reprioritize that fund, we would have stop all that to fix bridges,” he said.

Council could decide to pull funds from other county services, but then those would be affected.

“There’s always a trade-off,” Carpenter said. “It’s part of what council has to weigh every year. We’ll know better in January if we’ve had enough growth in general in county revenues.”

One thing Carpenter said residents have to remember is that gasoline taxes go to the federal government and are then reallocated through the state’s transportation committee.

“A lot of that goes toward county roads. When you see a county road paved, that is coming from there. Half to 76 percent of those funds go to roads. We do have the option to go to the committee and ask them to take on these projects,” Carpenter said.

He said the main goal behind the Baker study is to give as much good information as possible so it can make informed decisions.

“We’re in better shape than a lot of counties,” Carpenter said, “but we still have our issues.”



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