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Residents call new Jackson County bridge necessary, but detours are inconvenient
Jefferson residents discuss a proposal to replace a bridge on Galilee Church Road with Georgia Department of Transportation officials during an open house information session Tuesday night in Jefferson. - photo by BRANDEE A. THOMAS

Several dozen Jefferson residents have reviewed plans to replace a bridge on Galilee Church Road, and many have one word to describe the proposal: inconvenient.

"We understand the need for replacing the bridge, but it’s not very convenient," said Jefferson resident Doug Mize.

The bridge in question is the Joseph A. Johnson Bridge over the Middle Oconee River on Galilee Church Road.

The Georgia Department of Transportation, which is in charge of the bridge replacement, held an open house at Galilee Christian Church on Tuesday to discuss the replacement process and the necessary detour route.

"While the bridge is being replaced, a portion of Galilee Church Road will be closed to the general public," said Neil Kanter, a DOT district design engineer. "Local residents will be able to get to it, but there won’t be access for through traffic. There will be signs posted in advance, so that drivers can make decisions about alternate routes."

Barricades blocking through traffic from the closed portion of Galilee Church Road will be placed where the road intersects with W.H. Hayes Road and Ga. 11, which is also known as Winder Highway.

Transportation officials have devised a detour route for drivers. If drivers need to access areas that would have caused them to travel over the bridge, they will need to use Ga. 11, which connects Galilee Church Road to U.S. 129, or some other local road.

Although the Galilee Church Road will be open for local traffic, no drivers will be allowed to cross over the bridge until the
entire project is complete, estimated to take at least a year.

Galilee Christian Preschool is around 100 yards north of the bridge and the school’s director says the detour will be especially troublesome for her students’ parents and the school’s staff.

"Right now, it takes me around 15 minutes to get to work, but depending on traffic conditions with the detour, it may take me 25 minutes or longer to get here, and I have to be to work at 7 a.m.," said Gloria Martin, Galilee Christian Preschool director. "And a lot of our parents are teachers at Gum Springs Elementary School, and after dropping their kids off here, they would just continue (over the bridge) and go to work, but now they are going to have to go back up to (U.S. 129) and down (Ga.) 11 to get to work."

Martin said heavy traffic may become an issue due to Jackson County Comprehensive High School being located on Winder Highway. Several other public schools also are in the immediate vicinity.

One of the reasons DOT officials give for replacing the bridge is the structure’s age. The Joseph A. Johnson Bridge was constructed in 1961 and doesn’t meet current guidelines.

The existing bridge has two, 11-foot lanes for opposing lanes of traffic. The replacement bridge will feature wider — 12 feet — traffic lanes and also will include improved shoulders. Transportation officials say the changes will make it safer for pedestrians to cross and will also provide space to remove disabled vehicles from the roadway.