By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
According to a report released by The Road Information Program (TRIP), a Washington, D.C., based national transportation research organization, “24 percent of the bridges in Alabama are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.” This is the story of one of those bridges.
In 1911 (according to local memory), the people of Fayette County installed a classic one lane steel span bridge on Eldridge Road to cross the New River. The wood-floored bridge would connect the people in the small communities of Bazemore and Eldridge for longer than most people live. Rivers however are living things. Rivers flood, rivers swell, rivers bend, rivers can move earth…rivers even move. In the bridge’s tenth decade of service (perhaps affected by increased runoff from the newly constructed Corridor X upriver) the New River began to bend towards the road. Decades old trees fell into the river’s path.
Seasonal flooding ripped up yards of earth and soon 80plus feet of Eldridge Road became the southern edge of the river. The River threatened to cut off the bridge. The Fayette County Road Department valiantly fought against the inevitable adding a seawall of rock to protect the road from being washed out. It was not enough and the bridge finally collapsed when the river ate the bank.
According to Fayette County Engineer Bobby McGraw the county does not have enough money to restore the one lane bridge. Asking for federal dollars would mean re-engineering the bridge to meet federal flood plain regulations and lifting it out of the New River floodway (the bridge and much of Eldridge Road) goes underwater periodically during flash floods of the New River). Using federal dollars (if any were available) would mean that the Fayette County road department would have to provide a 10 percent to 20 percent match for a new bridge that could cost over $1 million. McGraw said that Fayette County’s road department does not have money for that scale project and getting state help on such a project would be impossible.
For purposes of full and honest disclosure, my mother, owns land on both sides of the bridge. Properties that used to be seconds and less than a half mile apart now are 16 miles and a circuitous 32 minute journey from Fayette County to Walker County through Marion County and back into Fayette County and includes a detour around the condemned Walker Country Road One bridge over a railroad. The New River Bridge is gone forever. We are resigned to that fact. Alabama simply does not have the money for items like our bridge anymore. Maintaining existing infrastructure levels is beyond the abilities of many rural counties and even some major urban areas. We lost the New River Bridge. Tomorrow it will be somebody else’s bridge that will be lost.