SMYRNA — Five months after the county hung a $20,000 curtain of red PVC pipes on each side of the historic Concord Covered Bridge, that warning system to motorists has been replaced.
The PVC pipes were meant to warn drivers of the bridge’s seven-foot clearance by making a noise when hit by a vehicle taller than that.
Yet just days after the pipes were hung, vehicles began to strike and damage the pipes, causing the PVC to shatter and expose the hanging chains, which in turn battered the windshields of at least three vehicles.
In its place, Cobb transportation workers installed a new $800 system on Thursday meant to protect the covered bridge. County officials say they’re hopeful that the system, as well as the vehicles that drive through the Covered Bridge Historic District, will carry on damage-free.
Bright yellow strips of rubber now dangle from chains 7 feet above the street.
County spokesman Ross Cavitt told the MDJ on Thursday the county is hopeful vehicles will be able to strike the rubber strips without damage.
He said the old system sustained damage because motorists were hitting them at speeds well above the 35 mph speed limit on Concord Road. The new hanging rubber devices are designed to withstand impacts at speeds up to 60 mph, and as an added bonus will be “much more quiet to nearby homeowners.”
The previous hanging system was installed because the protection system that had been in place, a horizontal metal beam just in front of both sides of the bridge, kept being struck by vehicles.
Dating back to 1872, the bridge that crosses Nickajack Creek just past Concord Road’s intersection with the East-West Connector was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The bridge reopened in mid-December 2017 after an $803,000 renovation.
It is flanked on both sides by multiple warning signs with flashing lights warning drivers of the low clearance.
When the pipes were installed, the beams had been struck at least 22 times since the bridge’s renovation.
As she watched workers install the new rubber strips on Thursday, a resident of Covered Bridge Drive, who asked to remain nameless, said the hanging systems have put motorists at more risk than before.
Covered Bridge Drive intersects Concord Road on the Mableton side of the bridge, just after the crossing and adjacent to one of the sets of hanging warning devices.
The resident said large commercial trucks, including tractor trailers, have abruptly stopped and attempted to back up on Concord Road — a road chock-full of blind curves — when their drivers have seen the hanging pipes.
“They think their trucks are going to be damaged,” she said. “They panic, so they’re using our private driveway to turn around. There is not room to do that. ... I have video footage of them backing up in the street, and people coming around that curve cannot see a truck backing up.”
The resident said the large vehicles have also moved into the wrong lane to avoid the hanging devices. The new system, she said, will change none of that.
She says her solution is simple: put up “no thru truck” signage or other warning signs at Concord Road intersections far before the bridge, like at Hurt Road on the Smyrna side of the bridge and Floyd Road on the Mableton side.
Those large intersections are likely where truck drivers coming from the East-West Connector would notice the signs and be able to properly reroute, the resident said.
“I’ve talked to representatives at DOT several times and asked, ‘Who studied this? Who studied this? Who concluded that this was the way to go?” she said, referring to the pipes that she’s seen DOT workers replacing multiple times after they’d been damaged.
Though the old system sustained and caused some damage, Cavitt continued to defend the hanging devices Thursday. He also said county officials are even more optimistic about the new rubber devices.
“We have had no incidents at the bridge since the warning pipes were installed,” he said. “(We) hope this will be as successful with the added advantage of being more durable.”