GAINESVILLE – Sixty-two years old and ready for retirement. That’s the opinion of the Georgia Department of Transportation regarding the State Route 53 westbound bridge crossing the Chattahoochee River - a.k.a. the “Jerry D. Jackson Bridge”.
Thursday evening GDOT hosted an informational open house, wanting to hear if local residents agreed, disagreed or had suggestions about the planned $21.9-million replacement project.
Marlin Cash, a longtime resident on Dawsonville Highway, brushed the rain from his shoulders as he entered the cafeteria at Chestatee High School, site of the open house.
He studied the maps and drawings provided by bridge designer Reynold, Smith and Hill of Atlanta and chatted briefly with RS&H representatives. Cash still has memories of 1992: the year GDOT turned two-lane Dawsonville Highway into four lanes, divided and with a grassed median.
That median does not have a break in front of Cash’s house and he dreads driving to Gainesville. Cash says doing so scares him; he has to quickly cross both lanes of westbound traffic after exiting his driveway and make a U-turn in order to head to the city.
“They left me with a nightmare,” Cash said. “You just can’t get in and out of my driveway. It’s dangerous. It’s very dangerous.”
Part of that 1992 project included construction of a bridge to parallel the Jackson Bridge so Cash wanted to be sure his opinion was heard about GDOT’s plan. Cash said his opinion and concerns were ignored for the 1992 project.
“They’re going to do what they got on the plans; it doesn’t matter what I say,” Cash said with a measure of resignation, but still held out hope a median cut could be built at his residence.
Another resident - who wished to remain anonymous - said he was concerned with the distraction that the project will cause. “Just five miles away they’re building a new bridge on the same road,” he said referring to the replacement of Bolding Bridge across the Chestatee River portion of Lake Lanier.
“And most of them (drivers crossing the old bridge) are so busy gawking at the giant floating cranes they aren’t watching where they’re going. It’s already too crazy driving 53 out of Gainesville…we don’t need more stuff pulling our eyes from the road,” he added.
But replacing the aged structure is more than an esthetic or practicality project. Replacement is needed according to GDOT engineers.
GDOT spokeswoman Katie Strickland read from an official report when asked about the bridge’s current health. “There are structurally deficient bridge details for this project. Right now that (the bridge’s structural integrity) is sitting at 79.6. The sufficiency rating of a bridge is determined by annual inspection.” Strickland said a score of 100 was the best grade attainable.
Strickland said that a measurement of 79.6 was not a cause for high levels of concern but was an indicator that major repairs or replacement was needed in the short term.
If all goes as planned, Strickland said construction could begin in September of 2019, have a construction timeline of approximately 24-months and be completed before the end of 2021.
What the bridge’s structural integrity rating will be in 2021 is anyone’s guess (Strickland did say normal maintenance and inspection of the Jackson Bridge would remain in place during the replacement process), but the 23,000 drivers who use the span on a daily basis will probably be glad to drive across a newer, and measurably safer, overpass.