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Residents: New Elachee bridge needs room for bikes, pedestrians
0725ELACHEE
Residents are hopeful the state will consider bicyclists and pedestrians as a new Elachee Drive bridge is planned and built.

The planned replacement of the Elachee Drive bridge over Interstate 985 is drawing raves, but area residents are hoping the state remembers bicyclists and pedestrians as part of the project.

A committee of city and county officials within the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, Hall’s lead transportation planning agency, gave its nod to the project last week but with the hope that those needs are addressed.

“I have a physical fear of heights, so when I ride over that bridge, I have to kind of get in the middle, and I often think of somebody coming up behind me,” said Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew, an avid cyclist.

“So, it is something that would be helpful, I think, for that purpose.”

Construction could start on the $3.3 million replacement in 2020.

Other project costs include $500,000 for preliminary engineering in fiscal 2017-18 and $250,000 for right of way acquisition in 2019, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

“This bridge is one of hundreds the department continues to program to replace aging bridges across the state,” said Albert V. Shelby III, state program delivery engineer, in a July 19 letter to R.K. Whitehead, chairman of the Chicopee Woods Area Park Commission.

The current two-lane bridge crosses I-985 between the Atlanta Highway/Ga. 13 and Queen City Parkway/Ga. 60 interchanges.

Elachee Drive cuts through the 1,440-acre Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve, running from Atlanta Highway to the Elachee Nature Science Center.

Elachee, a privately owned nonprofit organization, has hiking trails, a nature shop and exhibits, and it offers conservation-related and educational programs. It also serves as a venue for weddings and other events.

Some 100,000 people visit the center and the preserve in general per year, said Andrea O. Timpone, the center’s president and CEO, in a July 15 email to MPO officials.

“We believe this (bridge) is necessary for current use and for linking the newly opened Highlands to Islands (Trail), Elachee Nature Science Center and the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve,” Timpone wrote.

The DOT seems open to the idea of pedestrian/bicycling space on the bridge.

“The department is well aware of the need for including multimodal components on the bridge,” Shelby said in his letter.

“Part of every GDOT project is to look at the needs of the surrounding community and evaluate the (infrastructure) that is being built — in this case rebuilt — to see if it addressed those needs.”

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