By John Schaffner
Hermi’s Bridge, a steel truss bridge built in 1903 to connect Buckhead to Vinings, is getting a new lease on life this year — for the second time.
The narrow bridge next to Paces Ferry Road, which was built the year of the Wright Brothers‘ first powered flight, was the only traffic crossing in the area after Paces’ ferry ceased operating and until a second bridge was built in 1972.
After the new bridge was built, the old narrow bridge served as a pedestrian crossing until Cobb County closed it in 2006 for safety reasons. The structure had fallen into disrepair with peeling paint, rusting steel and rotting wooden planks.
It has been undergoing a total restoration since July of last year and is expected to be reopened for pedestrian and bike traffic by early June.
In its day, the bridge was an important conduit for commerce between Fulton and Cobb counties, Alexander said. It cost $10,000 to build 103 years ago, with Fulton putting up $7,500 and Cobb $2,500.
The restoration project is now costing $959,533, according to Mike Cates, pre-construction engineer with the Cobb County Department of Transportation, who is overseeing the project.
“For years, if you wanted to cross the Chattahoochee there, you had to wait your turn,” said Buckhead architect Cecil Alexander, now in his 90s and husband of the woman for whom the bridge was named. Alexander and his architectural firm designed the Coca-Cola headquarters, the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and other structures that are part of the Atlanta skyline.
His wife, Hermione Weil Alexander campaigned to save the old bridge in 1972, when it was retired from service. A decade later, Hermione Alexander was killed and her husband was injured when a drunken driver crashed into the car they were riding in.
Michael Lomax, a friend of the couple who was then Fulton County Commission chairman, visited Cecil Alexander in the hospital and asked if there was anything he could do. Alexander had a quick answer: They could name the bridge for Hermi, which is what everyone called his late wife.
The Fulton Commission officially named the span for her in 1984.
Fulton County took the lead in the effort to refurbish the bridge by securing a $320,000 federal grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission. But it turned out that Fulton had no authority over the bridge, which connects Cobb County to the Buckhead area of the city of Atlanta. So Fulton transferred the grant to Cobb County, which has taken the lead on refurbishing the span.
The restoration project is funded mostly by Cobb County’s 1-cent sales tax for road projects. Also, in addition to the $320,000 federal grant, the city of Atlanta and the nonprofit PATH Foundation, which supports greenways and trails, have provided funding.
Dan McDuff, a consultant who works with Cobb DOT on its projects, said the original Fulton estimate for refurbishing the bridge was $400,000. He said the largest cost has been associated with sandblasted the peeling, based paint and repainting the bridge. He said that work alone cost $400,000.
Cates and McDuff explained that work has been delayed by cold weather because they can’t paint below 50-degree temperatures, rain and high river levels. They need to build coffer dams around the bridge pilings in the river in order to reinforce them with new concrete. Many of the bridge’s structural members have been replaced. The final piece of work will be replacing the wood planks.
When it’s finished, the restored pedestrian bridge will be slate blue. It will have sturdier trusses and piers and new wooden decking.
It will again live as a worthy memorial to Hermione Alexander. Her former husband, Cecil, hopes “it’ll inspire more preservation than we’ve had.”