To outsiders, Lula’s wooden bridge may look like something you’d ride over at your own risk, its aging frame spanning the railroad tracks like a crooked finger.
But don’t criticize it too hard to local residents. The Cobb Street bridge is a beloved landmark, much like the nearby bright red caboose, narrow underpass up the road, festivals and all else that reflects this northeast Hall County town’s railroad heritage.
“It’s how we give directions — even if you’re not from here, there’s only one old wooden bridge,” Tim Lott said during a visit to the city last week.
And right now, it’s closed, per the Georgia Department of Transportation, stirring debate among residents as to whether it should remain that way.
Should the 70-year-old icon, which has been closed and reopened several times over the years, continue to function as a modern-day transportation link?
Yes indeed, said some several residents in interviews last week.
People “might be a little hesitant (about traveling on the bridge) because it’s been opened and closed so many times,” but it’s still passable, Lott’s wife, Amber, said.
“You can’t go over it fast, which is a good thing, because you don’t need to,” she said, with a laugh.
Also, the bridge is an important link joining two sides of town, and one that bypasses the frequent trains that travel through town, creating traffic issues at the railroad crossing near Athens and Main.
The underpass at Homer Road isn’t always a good option. Tim Lott said it flooded with heavy rains a couple weeks ago.
Not all believe the bridge should still serve motorists.
Patti Thomas, owner of Around The Corner Florist at Main and Athens streets, said she believes the bridge should be closed to traffic but not pedestrians.
The bridge is only wide enough, at least safely, for two cars.
“And in the wintertime, it ices and if you come across it, you can’t stop,” Thomas said. “You just keep going into the road, and then you have wrecks.”
City officials discussing the matter last week said they are trying to set up a meeting with Norfolk Southern railway to discuss bridge problems, such as cracking beams under the driving surface.
The railroad is responsible for repairs, officials have said.
City Manager Dennis Bergin warned that repairs may not happen overnight.
“This is not one of those things that’s going to be done in the blink of an eye, I can tell you,” he said.
The last closing took place in April 2011, with the bridge reopening in October 2012 after Norfolk Southern completed some structural work.
Bergin said at the time he pushed the issue through federal sources, including the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Rick Harris, Norfolk Southern spokesman, said last week of the looming issue, “When we receive the state’s report, we will review it and arrange for any work that we agree is necessary.”
He added that the railroad did its own annual inspection of the bridge April 5, and it passed.
DOT bridge engineers typically inspect every bridge in Georgia every two years, district spokeswoman Teri Pope said.
“As bridges score lower, inspection increases to every six months,” she said. “Cobb Street has been on (a schedule of) every six months ... since 2013.”
Vehicular traffic aside, the bridge also is a popular walkway, something that hasn’t let up since the closing.
Last week, walkers were stepping over the yellow tape draped across the entrance to both sides of the bridge and ignoring “Do Not Cross” signs posted on white sawhorses.
And they weren’t just running errands, as one man was doing as he carried two bags of groceries across the bridge. Some stopped at the peak of the structure and gazed off the side.
“It’s a beautiful scene,” Amber Lott said. “When you’re up high on the bridge, you can see all the way down the tracks until it curves.”
Keith Bellotte, also enjoying a walk on the bridge, keeps a photo of the bridge in wintertime as snow had blanketed the tracks and bridge and showing the American flag flapping in the foreground.
“It was the only snow we got that year, and it was beautiful,” he said.
For some, Lula without the bridge is simply too hard to imagine.
“I don’t know what the town would look like without it there,” longtime resident Michael Smith said