County engineers: Local bridges inspected regularly
by David Atchison
Local engineers say area bridges are inspected frequently to ensure structures meet federal and state safety guidelines.

Dan Dahlke, county engineer for St. Clair County, said bridges are inspected at least every two years, but some bridges are inspected more frequently if the bridge has certain weight restrictions.

“The two bridges we have posted for 3-ton weight limits are in rural areas,” Dahlke said.

He said those bridges are inspected every 60 days, and plans are underway to replace or repair those bridges.

One of the bridges is on Old St. Clair County Road 26.

“Nobody has to go across that bridge,” Dahlke said, adding that the county is rehabilitating that bridge.

The other bridge on River Crest Drive, off Logan Martin Dam Road, is being replaced. The bridge serves as an access to a neighborhood, and a temporary access is being constructed for people living in that community, Dahlke said.

“Everything was bid out in January,” he said.

The old bridge, which crosses part of Logan Martin Lake, has rust damage at the water line.

Dahlke said the St. Clair County Road Department is responsible for the inspection and upkeep of 62 bridges, including the two that are in serious need of repairs.

Dahlke said a typically designed bridge is structurally sound for about 50 years, although there are some bridges that remain structurally sound for much longer.

“With extreme traffic, it might not last 50 years,” he said.

County engineering departments are turning more of their attention to bridges because many bridges in St. Clair and Talladega counties were built in the 1960s.

Talladega County Engineer Tim Markert said in the 1960s the federal program started a farm-to-market program to help provide farmers access to roads so they could get their crops to market. Many of the bridges that were constructed under that program are now reaching the half-century-mark and are in need of repair or replacement.

He said during that time, Logan Martin Lake was constructed and as water backed up, new bridges were required over feeder creeks.

Markert said the Talladega County Commission recently applied for federal funds for 17 proposed bridge projects.

“It would take about $13 million to replace those bridges,” he said. “We don’t have $13 million.”

The replacement of bridges depends on the need, as well as the volume of traffic on individual bridges.

Markert said safety is of the utmost consideration for bridge repairs and replacements. He has never had a bridge collapse since becoming the county engineer in 1999, although he remembers one bridge collapsed south of Sylacauga in the early 1990s.

“An overweight truck tried to cross a bridge and it collapsed,” he said.

The county does put weight limitations on certain bridges, and there are numerous bridges throughout the county with weight restrictions. Warning signs are posted to alert drivers that large trucks and/or school buses are prohibited.

He said many school buses must take alternate routes to avoid bridges with certain weight restrictions.

Talladega County is unusual because it has more bridges than many other counties. It has almost five times as many bridges as St. Clair County. Talladega County has almost 250 bridges that certified bridge inspectors check regularly.

“Talladega is a long county, and we have the Coosa River running parallel to the county,” Markert said.

He said that, along with the construction of Logan Martin Lake in the 1960s, is why Talladega County has so many bridges.

Shawn McComb, a certified bridge inspector for the Talladega County Road Department, said most of the bridges in Talladega County are concrete bridges, but there are some steel bridges in the county as well.

McComb is one of three Talladega County Road Department employees who are certified bridge inspectors.

He said inspectors look at the deck or surface of the bridge, as well as the underside of the structure for cracks and for lose or missing pieces of concrete.

With the recent rains, county bridge inspectors are also looking at bridge bases for possible erosion from the strong, higher-than-normal, water currents.

County engineers from both St. Clair and Talladega counties stressed that commuters do not have to worry about the bridges in their respective counties.

“If we had a bridge that was really unsafe, we would close it,” Markert said.

Contact David Atchison at

© 2013