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New, wider Clarks Bridge opens
Opening comes a day ahead of schedule
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Construction workers continue work to one side of the new Clarks Bridge after the bridge was opened Wednesday. - photo by Erin O. Smith

The resurgent Lake Lanier Olympic Venue now has a shiny new bridge on its doorstep.

And venue manager Morgan House couldn’t be happier.

The new Clarks Bridge “is far and beyond what the (old) bridge was,” he said. “(Construction crews) outdid themselves.”

E.R. Snell Contractor of Snellville, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s contractor on the project, opened the wider bridge Wednesday, one day earlier than scheduled.

The old bridge had been closed since June 15 so crews could build Ga. 284/Clarks Bridge Road approaches to the new structure.

With the opening, workers removed detour signs, bringing relief, no doubt, to motorists who had to travel side streets jutting off busy U.S. 129/Cleveland Highway to get to destinations north of the bridge — including the venue.

“It took forever (to get home) and you had to fight tremendous traffic,” said Jimmy Clark, who lives off Ga. 284 two miles north of the bridge.

Crews will begin tearing down the old bridge, which was built in 1958, on Sept. 1, or outside the breeding and nesting season of phoebes and swallows, DOT spokesman Mohamed M. Arafa said.

Demolition is expected take about six weeks to complete.

“There will be some traffic delays just for the contractor to move equipment on and off the new roadway during demolition,” Arafa said.

Overall, the $8.7 million project is set to be completed by Dec. 31.

The DOT’s contract with E.R. Snell required that the detour and bridge closing take place over the summer so school bus travel would not be affected, DOT district spokeswoman Teri Pope has said.

The new bridge has two 12-foot travel lanes and an 8-foot bike lane/shoulder in each direction. It is 952 feet long and 40 feet wide. The old bridge is 834 feet long and nearly 24 feet wide.

The project also involved construction of a new pedestrian tunnel under Ga. 284. The tunnel opened earlier this year.

The tunnel is expected to especially benefit large crowds at the venue, which is marketing itself for sporting and non-sporting events alike.

The venue has had a $6.2 million economic impact on the area so far in fiscal 2015, officials reported earlier this month. And House has said he is hopeful totals will be even stronger in fiscal 2016, which starts Wednesday.

“We’re going to see a huge jump” for the Pan American Championships set for next May, House said. “That’s going to have people coming in from all over North and South America.”

He believes the new bridge will give visitors a good impression of the venue as a whole.

Driving on the bridge Wednesday, House looked off to the side, where the old bridge is still standing, and “couldn’t believe that was what I was driving on all these years,” he said.

Clark said he was struck by the views of the lake driving north on the new bridge.

“And (the bridge surface) is much, much smoother,” he said.

Clark should know. The 76-year-old, who has lived in the area all his life, said he believes he was the first to drive over the old bridge.

Workers used plywood and 4-by-4 planks to set concrete blocks that formed the old bridge’s driving surface. Clark, who is no relation to the bridge’s namesake, constantly eyed progress of construction and once he saw that the lumber had been removed, got in his car and “zipped across the bridge.”

“I was young and had to be the first one (to cross the bridge), and I got four flat tires out of it,” he said, with a laugh.

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