No pain, no gain.
That seemed to be the general consensus Thursday at the Rome Civic Center during the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Public Information Open House on the replacement of the Turner McCall Boulevard bridge over the Etowah River.
“I think it looks really good,” Rome City Commissioner Jim Bojo said during the two-hour, drop-in event attended by about 65 area residents. “It will be far, far better than what we have now, but like any other major construction project, it will take time and will be an inconvenience for awhile. It’s something that’s needed to be done for a long time.”
The two-year project — estimated to cost $28.5 million — is slated to begin in August 2022 and will be 38 feet wider than the current structure when they add additional turn lanes.
GDOT engineers determined after a routine inspection more than two years ago that the bridge built in 1956 was not designed to handle the weight and increased traffic demand of today.
The overall condition of the bridge has been classified as “fair” with exposed rebar and “moderate cracking” through the deck, according to a document provided to those at the meeting.
“Due to the age of the structure, the structural analysis of the bridge, and the unknown foundation of the substructure, replacement of this 61-year-old bridge is recommended,” the GDOT report stated.
GDOT estimates that nearly 37,000 vehicles a day are expected to pass over the bridge two years from now, compared to today’s daily count of about 35,000.
“We’ve got the biggest bottleneck in Floyd County right there,” Floyd County Manager Jamie McCord said as he viewed the enlarged project maps displayed on four easels around the room.
Longtime Rome resident Jessica Minton — who is able to drive despite losing her left leg to cancer at 11 and having a stroke 13 years ago — said she came to the event with her son and service dog because she was curious about how traffic would be handled during construction.
GDOT Project Manager Debbie Cottrell told her that at some point traffic will be down to one lane each way for a period of six months to 12 months.
Other GDOT officials explained they aren’t planning any official detours around the project because they are expecting commuters to find their own alternate routes when vehicles become too backed up along Turner McCall.
“I really like the design of it,” Minton said. “I like the fact that they’ll have an extended turn lane to First Street.”
Minton added she was more concerned about the reconfiguring of Second Avenue at Shorter Avenue scheduled to take place within the next couple of years, as well.
“I ride my hand cycle in that area and it’s pretty low to the ground,” she said, adding she hopes drivers of vehicles don’t miss seeing her during construction.
Others at the meeting worried the Second Avenue project that will do away with the awkward “Y” split and replace it with a more traditional intersection will occur at the same time as the Turner McCall bridge replacement, making traffic through Rome even more intolerable in 2022 and 2023.
GDOT officials said they would make sure both projects weren’t happening simultaneously.
Andy Gates, Ledbetter Properties vice president of construction management, wondered how much more congested the area at Riverside Drive will become for tenants of the new East Bend shopping center going in at the old Kmart site.
“It’s tough,” Gates said, explaining construction of the new mall is starting soon and should be done by October. “If customers of those businesses can’t get in and can’t get out, they’re just going to go somewhere else.”
Rome resident Grant Miller wanted to know where GDOT will stage all of their equipment during bridge construction and City Commissioner Wendy Davis hoped recreational users of the Etowah River wouldn’t be hampered in any way by equipment or workers.
For architect and fellow commissioner Mark Cochran, however, the desire for some decorative elements on the bridge is a top priority.
“That bridge is one of the main gateways to Rome,” Cochran said as he displayed cell phone photos of colorful bridges in New Mexico. “What a wonderful statement it would make to visitors and others if we could dress it up a little.”
GDOT officials encouraged residents to fill out the comment card on the back of their handout and promised to respond if they provided an address.
Those unable to attend the Open House have until Jan. 30 to submit written comments to: Mr. Eric Duff, Georgia Department of Transportation State Environmental Administrator, One Georgia Center/16th Floor, 600 W. Peachtree St. NW, Atlanta, GA 30308.