Noted for its historical significance in Fannin County, Shallowford Bridge is eligible to be recognized in The National Registry of Historic Places. While its fate has been determined without much discord among residents of the area, the location of a new bridge has fierce opposition and great concern over the safety of tourists and residents.
Even on a gloomy, off season Sunday afternoon there is considerable traffic using the bridge at Shallowford and Aska road intersection. Boards visibly lift and drop as each vehicle crosses Shallowford bridge, among unseen structural issues found by GDOT. Area residents and businesses agree the bridge needs to be repaired or replaced. It is the proposed location that is a big concern for those most familiar with the area. Here’s why:
During peak tourist season, vehicles often fill the already limited parking areas and park along Aska Road to visit the gem mine, novelty stores, restaurant and tubing businesses. Pedestrian traffic is significant during the warmer months and peak season. The new bridge is scheduled to be built directly in the middle of this already congested area. Excited children, even adults don’t often think about being hit by a vehicle. Locals believe that is what should be of the highest concern and not about being near to the old bridge. The current bridge, while not far from the proposed bridge is just to the South of the busy area.
GDOT’s Grant Waldrup recently stated residences and businesses along Aska Road and Shallowford Bridge Road will be minimally affected. Those who live in and know the area well have expressed a much different opinion.
“If you want to put a bridge directly behind our parking that is the most dangerous section of Aska Road,” stated Kimberly Wolfe, owner of Iron Bridge Cafe. She sat down with this FYN reporter for a candid interview.
She went on to say, if their concerns are ignored then other safety issues need to be installed, “To save these children and families who have small children getting out of these vans, SUV’s, here to enjoy their day with their family, then you put up precautions; a light, speed bumps. You want to make this more dangerous for Aska Road and all these tourists that come to Blue Ridge to bring us this money. That’s what we’re scared to death of. It’s everyone in this area who is concerned. But give us some sort of safety here on Aska Road. Not for our business which will suffer through construction, but it’s a major safety issue.”
“We fought, we tried, we understand a new bridge. We fully support a new bridge. But don’t put it in the most congested area of Aska Road. Cars fly through here 45-50 mph. Imagine if it’s your child, it only takes a second for a car to run off the road.
“You’re up here on vacation. Imagine losing a loved one. That’s what it’s going to take to realize how bad this area is. Do a ‘car count’ in June or July then let me know what your thoughts are then. Don’t do it in September.”
The news our concerns were ignored and currently no further discussion of safety will be addressed by GDOT “brought anger. It brought tears. It made you sick to your stomach when we heard they’re not going to change it,” Wolfe went on to say.
Of bringing it before the Board of Commissioners for a solution, she said, “We can only hope. We don’t know what else to do now.”
Reaching out to Fannin County Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton for comments on safety concerns, “I am open to address all safety concerns.” After the bridge is built they can consider installing flashing lights, reduced speed or other means of ensuring safety.
The bridge is set for construction sometime in 2020.
Shallowford Bridge noted for its’ historical significance in Fannin County is eligible to be recognized in The National Registry of Historic Places. Its current fate is at the center of a growing divide between GDOT, businesses, and residents on Aska and Shallowford Bridge roads.
Imagine peak tourist season, bridge construction, road changes, businesses and local residents all converging around Shallowford Bridge and Aska Roads. Those who live in this area can not imagine how this became the pending scenerio. A new bridge is supported, it is the location causing concern for current safety and for the area as it continues to grow in the future.
Earlier this month, GDOT held a Public Open House in Blue Ridge to explain their plans for the replacement of Shallowford Bridge. Concerned citizens were encouraged to ask questions and complete a questionnaire.
Representatives from Michael Baker International, a provider of engineering and consulting services were on hand to offer reasons why this project is imperative. GDOT must repair, replace, or move the current bridge. The bridge does not meet engineering criteria and has many issues, mainly steel related. It is not in safety compliance with federal regulations regarding bridge standards. Considering all available information, it is urgent to address the bridge issues now.
GDOT District Engineer (Cartersville) Grant Waldrop said Shallowford Bridge project will start about September 2020. It is expected to be completed in a 12-month time period.
Waldrop affirmed. “Fannin County has requested we leave the old bridge up. The existing bridge will be open during construction so there won’t be any detours which are about 10 miles down the road.”
While he added residences and businesses along Aska Road and Shallowford Bridge Road will be minimally affected, the residents and business owners expressed a much different opinion.
During the Open House, Kimberly and Charlie Wolfe, owners of Iron Bridge General Store and Cafe, located directly across from the current Shallowford Bridge and expected construction area, voiced their fears of how damaging GDOT’s current plan is for the safety of locals, tourists, and their business. Current plans could also destroy the businesses in the construction area having limited to no customer access for 12 months.
A highly congested area in the summer, and consistently busy in the offseason, they are concerned what it means in regard to safety for everyone. In addition to increased traffic, designated parking spaces, vehicles parked on both sides of Aska Road is increased foot traffic which often includes young children excitedly dashing about. The bridge is set to intersect with Aska Road in the middle of this busy public area.
Plans include a new trussed, concrete bridge to be constructed with two nine-foot lanes and a 10-foot walking path across the Benton-McKaye Trail relocation.
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