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Oct. 19, 2018
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Spanning time: The bridges of Lake Lanier – Then and Now

By Pamela A. Keene
 
A little more than 70 years ago, Lake Lanier was a concept on paper as the U.S. Congress authorized the construction of Buford Dam in 1946. It would be nearly 10 years before the lake created by the damming of the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers.
 
But long before Buford Dam was built, the land that now lies beneath the surface of the 39,000-acre lake was inhabited by residents who traveled by roads, bridges and ferry. Some of those bridges and ferry crossings are familiar to current residents who traverse bridges named for those long-ago landmarks. Others have developed local-knowledge names that help residents and visitors make their way from one side of the lake to the other. 
 
“The lake’s original bridges were built to last about 50 years,” said Katie Strickland, district communications coordinator and GDOT spokeswoman for the Northeast Region of the Georgia Department of Transportation, the government body that oversees roads, bridges, tunnels, overpasses and such across the state. “DOT inspects all Georgia bridges every two years, and there are 750 bridges or culverts in 21 counties that are inspected.” 
 
The Georgia Department of Transportation has been rebuilding the lake’s 12 bridges over the past decade or so. With the completion of State Route 53 (Bolling Bridge) and State Route 369, (Browns Bridge) within the next three to five years, all will have been replaced with the latest in construction technology. The GDOT has currently awarded contracts for most of the rebuilds on all of the lake’s bridges. 
 
“GDOT and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work together on such projects,” Strickland said. “We coordinate with them to get permits in place. They are involved early on in the planning.” 
 
The department also coordinates with other entities, including local governments and various businesses and organizations. But one of the most interesting projects involved working with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, starting in 2015, to first assist in relocating several Osprey nests that had been built atop Bolling Bridge on State Route 53. 
 
“Osprey are protected through the Federal Endangered Species Act, so we worked with the DNR and with Jackson EMC to put up two timber poles with platforms near the bridge to encourage the osprey to migrate there,” she said. “GDOT delayed construction at Bolling Bridge until mid-October of 2017, the time of the year when the osprey migrate.”
 
Strickland added, “We are not allowed to touch the bridge during the Osprey nesting season, and a special provision was placed in this construction contract.”
 
The first concrete caisson supports for Bolling Bridge were poured in 2017. The plan is to build the replacement bridge right next to the existing bridge, then divert traffic to the new 2-lane structure. Afterward, the old steel-truss bridge will be demolished.
 
The new bridge will have two 12-foot-wide lanes and 8-foot shoulders. The $20 million project is expected to take almost three years to complete, with a target date of March 2019. It includes building the new bridge and the approaches to the bridge, a total of .74 miles of construction, widening and realignment. 
 
“The bridges over the lake really create connectivity throughout many of the northeast Georgia counties,” Strickland says. “For instance, how would you get to Forsyth County or Cumming on State Route 53 without Bolling Bridge? You can’t, unless you own a boat.”
 
The concrete bridge on State Route 60, AKA Thompson Bridge, provides essential connectivity to North Georgia. “This bridge carries traffic over the lake and heads up to Dahlonega, connecting people from Gainesville-Hall County to the top portion of the state,” Strickland says. “These structures bridge the gaps between our counties and allow people to live in rural areas and travel daily to the more urban areas to work and go to school.” 
 
It’s all in a name 
Over the years, bridges that cross Lake Lanier have become known by certain names, but they’re not official in most cases. “Most of the bridges across Lake Lanier are historic names, not official,” Strickland said. “Some were named for former structures below the lake or other common ways, such as for the road they’re on.” 
 
Naming a bridge is literally accomplished by an Act of Congress. “The road dedication process is overseen by the Georgia General Assembly. These road dedication resolutions are sponsored by a State Senator or State Representative and are limited to the State Highway system.”
 
Browns Bridge existed before Buford Dam was built. It was a covered bridge located not far from the current Browns Bridge.
 
Here’s an interesting name story: Shadburn Ferry. In 1948, Henry Shadburn who lived in Forsyth County sold his 100-acre farm to the U.S. government for $4,100. It was the first purchase toward creating Lake Lanier. Today, there’s Shadburn Ferry Road, but it’s located on the Hall/Gwinnett side of the lake. Shoal Creek Park is at the end of one of the road’s spurs.
 
Facts and figures 
Twelve major bridges traverse parts of Lake Lanier, originally built in the mid-1950s. Here are details about each of the bridges under the responsibility of GDOT:
 
Bolling Bridge, sometimes called The Big Green Bridge – Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53, crosses the Chestatee River. Distinctive green trusses originally built in 1956 and being replaced at a cost of $19 million. Construction began in late 2016 and is expected to be completed by 2019. A new bridge is being built adjacent to the existing bridge; the new bridge will carry two-way traffic once it is complete. The old bridge will be demolished, and a second span will be built. The new structure will have two lanes of traffic in each direction.
 
Jerry Jackson Bridge, AKA Lanier Bridge, on Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53 crosses the Chattahoochee River. Repaved within the past few years at a cost of $2.9 million. Plans are to replace this bridge as part of the $20 million Hall County plan to widen the road as early as 2021.
 
Longstreet Bridge and Bells Mill Bridge carry US 129/SR 11 over the Chattahoochee River and the East Fork Little River respectively. These new structures will be completed in spring 2020 and come with a construction price tag marked $34 million. These bridges were awarded together in one contract to help expedite the replacement process. “One contractor can tackle both bridges faster and more financially restrained,” Strickland said. “It’s much better than having two different companies out there trying to coordinate work and store beams and equipment.” The two Cleveland Highway/U.S. 129 projects began in December, and new structures will be built next to each bridge. This construction is a foreshadowing to long-range plans to widen Cleveland Highway/U.S. 129 from Limestone Parkway to the White County line, but no dates have been set. 
 
Thompson Bridge, not its official name, is the double-span concrete bridge on SR 60/Thompson Bridge Road about a mile from Lakewood Baptist Church on one end and about 300 yards from Gainesville First United Methodist Church on the other was renovated and expanded several years ago to accommodate four lanes of traffic – two lanes in one direction on one span and lanes in the opposite direction on the other.
 
Browns Bridge – Browns Bridge Road/Ga. 369 over Chattahoochee River: Construction is set to start in 2018 at a cost of $27 million for the bridge that connects Hall and Forsyth counties. The 1,372-foot bridge will have two 12-foot lanes and 8-foot shoulders. Projected completion date is 2020. 
 
Two-Mile Creek: Browns Bridge Road/Ga. 369 crosses over Two-Mile Creek near Lakewood Baptist Church. Grading has started for building a new first span to replace the existing bridge. Completion scheduled for May 2020. Construction contract awarded May 2017 in the amount of $11 million.
 
Six-Mile Creek: Browns Bridge Road/Ga. 369 crosses over Six-Mile Creek. One span is now being built to handle traffic that will be redirected from the old bridge, which will be removed. This represents .625 miles of construction and the first caissons were poured in September. A second bridge will be built once 369 is widened, although no date for the widening has been set.
 
Clarks Bridge – Clarks Bridge Road/SR 284 near Lake Lanier Olympic Park was rebuilt and widened in 2015. 
 
Two bridges on SR 136/Price Road – The work to be done on the bridge over Lake Lanier/Chestatee River is in preliminary design. Concept work on the bridge over Lake Lanier/Toto Creek will begin in 2018.
 
One bridge on SR 52 – Replacement is planned on the bridge over the Lake Lanier/Chattahoochee River.
 
For more history
For a comprehensive look at the history of Lake Lanier, get a copy of Buford resident David Coughlin’s “Lake Sidney Lanier: A Storybook Site.” You’ll find an extensive section about bridge and road relocation and construction with numerous photographs of previous structures and historic pictures of the bridges being built in the 1950s.
 
For information about Coughlin’s book, visit www.lakelanierhistory.com.


An artist’s view of Lanier’s bridges
National Marine Artist and Gainesville resident Anne Brodie Hill has captured some of Lake Lanier’s historic bridges in a special series of watercolors she has painted over the years. 
 
“It just seemed like a natural thing to paint the bridges,” said Brodie Hill, who moved to Lake Lanier in 1995 with her husband Bob Hill. “We were out one day on the boat and I took a photo of Browns Bridge. I had already been painting lake scenes, and Don Griffin of Frames-you-nique encouraged me to do a series featuring the bridges.”
 
From that conversation, Brodie Hill has painted six of the bridges, five that are maintained by the Georgia Department of Transportation: the old Clarks Bridge near Lake Lanier Olympic Park, Longstreet Bridge, Browns Bridge, Two-mile Creek Bridge, Bolling Bridge and the bridge near Hideaway Bay Marina on McEver Road. 
 
“I didn’t just paint the bridges,” she said. “In each one, I’ve put something interesting in the foreground, such as fishermen with a big striper jumping behind them in the Longstreet Bridge painting and the old Lan-Mar Marina dock in the painting of Browns Bridge.”
 
Brodie Hill has also painted other Laker Lanier Bridges, including a commission of the bridge leading to the entrance of Lanier Islands. Other bridges have been included in various montage works.
 
To see her work, and for a fun comparison of these bridges with their updated counterparts, visit www.lakelanierart.com. Prints are available.
 
Posted online 12/27/17

 
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