Longtime Duluth resident Ann Parsons Odum can still recall the maneuvering drivers had to do to get across Rogers Bridge decades ago when it was still open to vehicular traffic.
Rogers Bridge was a one-lane bridge, so it was not like modern bridges, which allow traffic to cross in both directions at the same time. The bridge served as one of the few connections between Duluth and the area that would eventually be incorporated as Johns Creek so drivers could go in either direction on the old bridge.
They just couldn’t do it at the same time.
“You’d have to wait on one side, and make sure nobody was in the middle and then cross over,” said Odum, 89, as she watched crews lift the old bridge off its pillars and moved off the Chattahoochee River on Monday. “And, sometimes you’d meet in the middle and have to decide who was going to back up because it was a one-way bridge.”
The moving of Rogers Bridge, which was temporarily placed on the Johns Creek side of the river, was a major step toward plans to re-establish a usable connection between Duluth and Johns Creek. Both cities are working with Gwinnett and Fulton counties on a project to build a replacement pedestrian bridge on the same spot where Rogers Bridge stood for decades.
The new bridge will be virtually identical to the old one that was removed on Monday.
“The only thing that gives me hope is that they’re going to build a pedestrian bridge with the same look,” Odum said. “And, that’s great. I feel good about that.”
Officials from Duluth, Johns Creek and Gwinnett and Fulton counties kicked off construction on the third iteration of a crossing over the river to be named for the Rogers family on Monday.
The bridge replacement is tied to parks and recreation projects that both cities are undertaking on their respective sides of the Chattahoochee.
Duluth is planning several renovations to Rogers Bridge Park on its side, with that park set to be linked to walking trails that will run south along the Chattahoochee from the park to Pleasant Hill Road. Meanwhile Johns Creek is in the process creating a massive park on its side of the river at the bridge location.
“For the city of Duluth, moving that bridge, in our opinion, puts us on the map regionally,” Duluth Planning and Development Director Bill Aiken said. “That connection between Gwinnett County and Fulton and the Johns Creek and the city of Duluth (and) converting those underutilized areas to these phenomenal recreational facilities is a huge step for the city of Duluth as far as creating the quality of life for residents that it creates.
“It’s going to be unparalleled with any other park in metro Atlanta in my opinion.”
The big impact for the city, however, is what the bridge project means for Duluth’s longterm plans for trails.
“The bridge is really phase one to a long-range trail plan,” Aiken said. “We want a system of trails on the Chattahoochee River, from Rogers Bridge all the way down to Pleasant Hill.”
Some longterm plans for Rogers Bridge Park include demolishing the existing bathroom facility at the park and building a new trailhead facility that will include bathrooms and an office for a city parks employee who will be based at the park. The parking area near the bridge will also be improved.
The moving of the old bridge was a massive undertaking that took hours to complete.
Flaggers had to be placed in the Chattahoochee to prevent people who were kayaking, canoeing or tubing on the river from getting near the bridge while it was being moved. Meanwhile crews had to ensure the bridge was disconnected from its pillars and then place rigging on the bridge structure so it could be lift up and moved.
In all, it took more than six hours to get the bridge off the river and placed on the Johns Creek side of the Chattahoochee.
Even Odum, who has had a lifetime of experiences, said the site of Rogers Bridge being picked up and moved in one piece was unusual for her. She said she felt “lucky” to be able to see it moved off the river.
“I’ve never seen a bridge moved before,” said Odum at one point while the bridge hovered in the air over the river. “I’ve seen them takes parts of them down (but this is first time seeing them) move one.”
Although the old bridge was moved off the river, it will have a new use. Aiken said Duluth is getting one half of the bridge while Johns Creek will get the other half. Duluth’s Public Art Commission will seek proposals from artists to create artwork made from the metal in the city’s half.
“The metal will basically be reused, it will have a second life as public art,” Aiken said.
That artwork, which the Public Art Commission will fund, will be put on display in the city.
For longtime Duluth residents, the bridge holds a special place in their hearts. Odum recalled a time when the city’s residents used bridges similar to Rogers Bridge to cross the river at Medlock Bridge and McClure Bridge. Rogers Bridge was the last of those old bridges that was still standing on the river.
Even after the bridge closed to vehicular traffic, Odum recalled walking across it to get to the old Taylor farm on the other side of the river.
“Polly Taylor lived on the other side of the bridge and then, as she got older, the bridge was closed, but we would still walk down here,” she said.
Even though the new bridge will retain the look of the old Rogers Bridge, Odum was wistful about the old crossing. She said it had a significance to longtime Duluth residents.
“We hate to see it go,” she said. “You know, when you get this old, you don’t like change, so I hate to see it. I don’t know, there’s just something nostalgic about the look of this bridge. I understand they are going to recreate that though, so that’s good.”
But, Odum still said she looks forward to the new bridge that will be built at the site.
“I’m going to stay alive as long as I can so I can walk across that bridge,” she said.