Bridges open as promised in time for Covered Bridge Festival



The photo shows the group that helped bring the covered bridge renovation project to completion. They spoke briefly at a ceremony at Swann Bridge Monday as two of the bridges – Swann and Easley – were opened to traffic. From left: Sharon Murphree, Friends of the Covered Bridges of Blount County; Winston Sitton, county engineer; District 1 Commissioner Allen Armstrong; Barry Johnson, Friends of the Covered Bridges; Chris Green, probate judge/commission chairman; Bob Smith, president of Bob Smith Construction Company of Trussville and Blount County native, the only contractor to bid on the project; John Friedberg (partially hidden) project manager for Bob Smith Construction; and District 3 Commissioner Dean Calvert.

The photo shows the group that helped bring the covered bridge renovation project to completion. They spoke briefly at a ceremony at Swann Bridge Monday as two of the bridges – Swann and Easley – were opened to traffic. From left: Sharon Murphree, Friends of the Covered Bridges of Blount County; Winston Sitton, county engineer; District 1 Commissioner Allen Armstrong; Barry Johnson, Friends of the Covered Bridges; Chris Green, probate judge/commission chairman; Bob Smith, president of Bob Smith Construction Company of Trussville and Blount County native, the only contractor to bid on the project; John Friedberg (partially hidden) project manager for Bob Smith Construction; and District 3 Commissioner Dean Calvert.

It’s been a long time since renovating the county’s three covered bridges was first discussed in a county commission meeting in 2003. The initiative finally came to life in 2009 when the bridges were closed as a public safety precaution after they failed load tests during a structural analysis.

The analysis showed they needed extensive repair including structural support, roof replacement, facade repair, and decking. Then followed an excruciating period of delays while sets of plans were lengthily examined, changed, lengthily examined again, and changed again until they were finally approved last year. When work began last fall, then-county engineer Richard Spraggins set the target date for their completion: in time for the Covered Bridge Festival of 2012.

Two of the three bridges – Easley and Swann – made it to the finish line on schedule. The third – Horton Mill – the most extensively damaged by vandals – is only a few weeks behind. A photo of all who helped bring the project to completion would have included as many as half of the crowd of 60 to 70 people assembled for the opening Monday.

Absent from the ceremony were District 4 Commissioner Waymon Pitts, due to a death in the family, and District 2 Commissioner Andy Neill, due to a road emergency. Both served and contributed during the crucial period of restoring the covered bridges, Neill for the last two years and Pitts for the last eight.