HELEN — It’s not open for use yet, but Helen’s new downtown pedestrian bridge was set in place Thursday morning.
Square Deal Enterprises began moving the bridge onto Main Street (Ga. 75) at 8 a.m., and the bridge was lowered onto its new home about 11:15 a.m. to the applause of cheers of more than 100 people watching from the patios, porches and decks of surrounding businesses.
“It’s been eight years coming,” Helen Mayor Jeff Ash said. “When the first bridge was put in, we realized just how valuable it was. With the growth in the south part [of the city], this bridge just kind of adds a centerpiece that we can work with – with lights and flowers, but more importantly safe pedestrian movement because of growth with the new hotels and all that stuff.”
The 61,300-pound bridge is 157 feet long and nine feet wide, with about 7.5 feet of usable width.
Most of Helen’s largest hotels are located south of the bridge, including Holiday Inn Express that has been in business for about a year and a new hotel and conference center under construction near the south city limits.
About 100,000 pounds of concrete will be poured on the surface of the new bridge as early as next week. The bridge, located along the northbound lane of Main Street and crossing the Chattahoochee River, could open for public use in two to three weeks.
“It’s set,” Ash said. “I don’t think anybody is going to go pick up 61,000 pounds and do something with it. DOT has specs on the concrete. If you’ll notice, the bridge is already floored. They’ll come in here and probably block off half the road and pour it. It’s only three inches [deep] then it has to cure.”
Ash said continued growth of tourism to Helen, known as Georgia’s Alpine Village, is creating vehicular and pedestrian gridlock at times. The city is one of the state’s three most visited cities. He is thankful the long process of funding, constructing and installing the bridge is nearing completion so it can open before the peak of tourism season hits.
“It’s an absolute necessity now when you talk about a million and a half people, two million people,” Ash said. “Those people are here on the weekends and they’re going to go from one end of town to the other, which means that bridge over there could see two and a half million people walk across it in any given year.”
The new pedestrian bridge mirrors the one along the southbound lane of Main Street, in front of Paul’s Steakhouse on the River.
“Both bridges are very attractive, very safe, and I’m sure that we’ll amend the crossings,” Ash said. “That needs to be studied a little bit to get people on both sides. It unites over a major river, the Chattahoochee, and makes it safe for all concerned – kids, pets – look, you can’t even get your hand through some of the railing.”
Thursday morning’s installation was a precision operation, with two cranes working in tandem to move the new structure into position.
“We’re just thankful that everybody was safe doing it,” Ash said. “Square Deal – I’ll put a plug in for them – they’re masters at their work. I couldn’t thank them any more, and the help that we got from DOT.”