Bridge reopening in Atlanta reminds of city’s botched 1994 infrastructure program that was to have done job

By David Pendered

The reopening of Mitchell Street Bridge Viaduct in Downtown Atlanta is a gentle reminder of how slip-ups in 1994 delayed the project for almost two decades.

Mitchell Street Bridge Viaduct

A Central of Georgia locomotive passes beneath the Mitchell Street Bridge Viaduct in this undated photo. Credit: Atlanta History Center

The bridge was slated to be replaced with proceeds of a $149.9 bond referendum that was to have been on the ballot in March 1994. The money was to repair the city’s infrastructure before the 1996 Olympic Games.

Atlanta botched some technical aspects of the bond proposal, and Sandy Springs attorney Bob Proctor convinced a Fulton County judge to order that the bonds couldn’t be sold even if voters approved the referendum. By the time the bond was repackaged and the referendum passed, in June instead of March, it was too late to fix the bridge before the Games and the job was deferred.

The bridge, which the state Department of Transportation says was built in 1924, continued to decay.

In 2000, the bridge’s safety rating was downgraded so that the maximum vehicular weight was 3 tons, according to a history of the project compiled by the city.

On Jan. 27, 2004 the state recommended the city immediately close the bridge. But the bridge was patched and left open to serve cars and small pickup trucks.

Four years later, the situation was beyond repair.

The state ordered the bridge closed immediately on March 14, 2008. The city’s report on the project describes the situation:

  • “The inspection indentified severe corrosion in the materials that make up the structure. Once the structure is compromised due to extensive corrosion, cracks and section loss, the bridge is unable to carry the traffic load and may collapse causing damage to property and possible loss of life. Therefore, the bridge was closed to through traffic to allow for the necessary repairs.”

In 2009, the city entered an agreement with the state Department of Transportation for the state to replace the bridge, and for Norfolk Southern to provide access to its right-of-way.

The $8.8 million project was completely funded by the federal stimulus program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Archer Western Contractors, Inc. delivered the project ahead of its planned Aug. 31 opening date.

This is what Emory McClinton, Atlanta’s representative on the state Transportation Board, said during the ribbon-cutting event for the new bridge on Aug. 23:

  • “This is a wonderful day for Atlanta. A new Mitchell Street Bridge, the new structure we’ll soon build to replace the Spring Street Viaduct and the Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal we are building will not only help revitalize this community, they will transform it into a thriving ‘destination’ for all Atlanta residents and tourists alike.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

4 replies
  1. kaytee says:

    I am so happy this bridge is back open. I went across it today for the first time since it opened. It was quite wonderful and shaved a few minutes off my trip time.Report

    Reply

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