Correction: Since this article was written, GDOT has announced it will perform the bridge transfer the following weekend May 12-14. The Editor.
Is the weekend of May 5-7 one of those critical points in human history when all the planets align, constellations converge and mysterious galactic forces focus on one tiny patch of earth in the extreme corner of northwest Georgia? It's beginning to look like it.
Not only was May 6's annual 3 State 3 Mountain bicycling event rerouted for the first time in 30 years to skip Dade because Sheriff Ray Cross had picked the same Saturday for his "Music Between the Mountains" fundraiser, but now it appears GDOT (the Georgia Department of Transportation) has chosen the identical weekend to replace the I-24 bridge at Highway 299.
As Dade commuters will no doubt know by now, the new bridge is being built alongside the highway and it is to be swung neatly into place in the space of one weekend, courtesy of the miracle of modern construction. Now it seems that weekend is going to be May 5-7. GDOT has announced a public meeting in Dade to that effect on Thursday, April 27, 4 p.m. at the North Georgia Worship Center.
Chief Deputy Tommy Bradford at the Dade County Sheriff's Department confirmed that GDOT had announced the news to his department--though way after the sheriff's benefit was planned. "Last week or the week before is when they told us that would be the weekend they were doing it," he said.
Maj. Bradford said the delay was based on the way GDOT and its contractor, Wright Brothers, were having to work to get the tightly-scheduled project done on time, with weather always a big factor. "I think they wanted to get closer to the date before they actually set a true date," he said.
That true date may not be so true--the chief deputy said that May 5 was GDOT's bridge replacement date "weather permitting." May is generally a mild spring month, but as Mr. S. reminded, rough winds do sometimes shake the darling buds of same-and Dade residents may remember the first Saturday of May in 2013, when ceaseless, torrential rains resulted in multiple accidents in the 3 State 3 Mountain event, one fatal. So GDOT still may have to change the weekend if weather does not permit.
But if things go as planned and the bridge replacement does happen on the same weekend as the sheriff's benefit, Bradford evinced no worry it would cause problems for his department. "DOT and Wright Brothers Construction met on this and they are supposed to have everything worked out," he said. "They contacted us for some officers and I told them that for Saturday during the day that I would not be able to provide them two officers, that they would have to go through the state patrol for that."
The 3 State 3 Mountain cycling event was rerouted after Sheriff Ray Cross told its organizers he could not provide sufficient law enforcement officers for its security because they would be tied up at the benefit. The same will be true for the highway project on the Saturday, though Bradford said he'd have no trouble working something out for Friday, Saturday night and Sunday.
The Highway 299 bridge replacement will close down that section of I-24 all weekend and presumably channel a great deal more traffic through Wildwood and Dade County in general. But Bradford said he expected GDOT had found Georgia State Troopers for the Saturday and in any case the Dade Sheriff's Department will still have deputies on duty and taking calls as usual.
The extra manpower GDOT and Wright Brothers ask for as traffic control, said Bradford, is anyway just "two officers sitting there with their blue lights on to make people start slowing down."
And if push comes to shove, said the chief deputy, the sheriff's department will come through for Dade. "If things get bad we'll just have to pulling from wherever we have to pull from to make whatever we need to happen happen," said Bradford.