Apr. 21—A brand new bridge will in all likelihood span the MacKay River on the F.J. Torras Causeway in the not-so-distant future, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.
But before the GDOT goes any further with its plans, it wants to know what the people who frequent the existing MacKay River structure think about the plans for the proposed new bridge.
The bridge project is open to public comment through May 5. Information on the project is available at the GDOT's website: http://www.dot.ga.gov/AboutGDOT/PublicOutreach. Scroll down to April 12-May 5, which is headed: "State Route 25 Spur East/Torras Causeway at Mackay River: Bridge Replacement."
Construction of a new MacKay River Bridge could begin as early as state fiscal year 2022, which begins July 1, according to plans. The bridge is projected to cost $78 million, according to GDOT.
Some 16,757 GDOT informational postcards began arriving last week in mailboxes of residents who would be most affected by the project, said GDOT spokeswoman Jill Nagel. The cards outline the proposed new bridge and discuss the public comment period.
They were mailed to St. Simons Island residents and some Brunswick residents residing around the mainland foot of the causeway.
Built in 1986, the existing MacKay River Bridge is in a state of deterioration, GDOT officials said. Engineers have detected cracks in the bridge's concrete structure and scouring in its support piers, GDOT said. It does not meet current bridge design standards.
While it is still safe to drive on the bridge, GDOT officials want it replaced long before it reaches a state of being unsafe for travel,
"If we don't do anything, the bridge will continue to deteriorate," Nagel said. "The bridge is safe, but we also have to look at the long term. This is the only route on and off the island. The causeway is the only hurricane evacuation route for people on the island, so we have to look at this bridge very carefully."
The MacKay River Bridge is one of two large bridges that span waterways through the marsh which the 4-mile-long causeway travels. It is the closest large bridge to the island side of the causeway.
The other large bridge is the Back River Bridge, farther west on the causeway. Several smaller bridges also span waters, including the Frederica River Bridge near the island and the Terry Creek Bridge near the mainland.
The GDOT has publicly discussed the need for a new MacKay River Bridge as early as 2016.
The MacKay River also is part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway system. In January 2016, GDOT officials told The News that a new bridge was needed to broaden waters for navigational traffic below.
The new bridge would be constructed about 55 feet north of the existing MacKay River Bridge, Nagel said. Traffic would continue on the existing Mackay River Bridge during construction, she said.
Primarily, the GDOT wants input on its preliminary plans for the bridge. It would be 2,880 feet long and 90 feet wide, feature two 12-foot-wide travel lanes in each direction split by a median with a concrete dividing barrier. There would be an 8-foot-wide shoulder along both outside lanes.
Additionally on the eastbound side, a 4-foot-wide, striped buffer would separate vehicular traffic from the 6-foot-wide bicycle/pedestrian path. This path would join with the existing bicycle/pedestrian path that runs the length of the causeway.
The existing bridge is 2,601 feet long and 75 feet wide with four lanes of traffic and a concrete median. There is an 8-foot-wide shoulder on the westbound side; along the east side is a 4-foot-wide striped buffer between traffic and the 6-foot-wide bicycle pedestrian lane.
The fishing piers underneath the existing bridge will be demolished along with, eventually, the existing bridge, DOT officials said. The GDOT and county officials closed the fishing piers — actually remnants from an older version of the causeway — in February, citing safety issues.
GDOT plans indicate a new fishing pier may eventually be built beneath the east side of the MacKay River. The proposed new pier would align with existing parking on that side of the river, the GDOT said.
"This is a preliminary design that we're bringing to the public because we want to get their input," Nagel said. "We want that input and we will look at every comment that's been provided to us. Components of the bridge could change as a result of public input."