Pedestrian bridge connector coming soon to Macon’s Ocmulgee Heritage trail


Liz Fabian

Work will begin later this month to install a new pedestrian bridge over Vineville Branch at Riverside Cemetery as one of the final links in connecting 11 miles of the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.

More than 22 years ago, Chris Sheridan and others started dreaming of an Ocmulgee Heritage trail lining the Macon banks of the river.

“That’s the way improvements go in the urban core go,” he said. “It’s a long game and we need to think 20 and 30 years down the road.”

More than two decades later and by the end of this year, an important new link will begin connecting the trail network across the waterway.

Macon-Bibb County commissioners approved an $81,486 contract with C.E. Garbutt Construction Company, of Dublin, to build a new pedestrian bridge from the Riverside Cemetery boardwalk across the Vineville Branch that flows into the west bank of the Ocmulgee.

Construction must be finished by Dec. 31 to qualify for an $100,000 grant awarded last year by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

“The first time we bid it out it was well over that, so they had to go back to the drawing board. They had to go back and redesign some of what was going to happen there,” assistant county manager Julie Moore told commissioners during Tuesday’s meeting.

Sheridan “value engineered” and scaled down the project which was sent out for bids again this fall. Garbutt came in as the low bid for a second time, Mayor Robert Reichert explained.

“It’s the same contractor… that bid on it the first time but we couldn’t afford it because it was several times the grant amount and we didn’t have any additional money to add to it,” Reichert said.

Garbutt won the second bid with money to spare.

Part of the 7-year-old boardwalk has rotted at Riverside Cemetery but will be repaired while the new pedestrian bridge is built over the Vineville Branch. (Liz Fabian)

“I think they were going to spend some of the money left over to replace some of the boardwalk, the existing boards that have rotted and need replacing. So they’ll end up using the full grant and get the extension across the creek and over to the other side so it will connect,” Reichert explained.

Although the bridge must be completed by the end of the year, it will likely be about five years before it is joined to a future pedestrian bridge over the Ocmulgee that will connect the trail from the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park on the east side of the river to the Amerson River Park on the west bank.

Sheridan realizes this latest bridge won’t fully be in use until the Interstate 16/75 interchange project is complete.

“I’ve learned you have to take money where you can get it and when you can get it,” Sheridan said Friday. “It allowed us to build a bridge that can sit and be a ‘bridge to nowhere’ for five years… and sit without deteriorating.”

Similarly, another ‘bridge to nowhere’ has been idle for about four years.

During the Leadership Macon Class of 2016, the mayor’s son, Thomas Reichert, spearheaded an effort to add about two miles of trail from Amerson River Park to the interstate interchange, including a steel bridge that spans a 60-foot gully.

“Once they become bridges to somewhere, they will still be like brand new bridges,” Sheridan said.

Eventually, the Georgia Department of Transportation will link the two trail systems together with a pedestrian bridge over the Ocmulgee. (Submitted photo)

A temporary road construction bridge being built now in the river will eventually join both sides of the 11 miles of trail.

“A tiny little pedestrian interchange that mimics the great big brother interchange,” Sheridan said.

Pressure is on to complete the project by year’s end or lose the grant funding.

“DNR gave us an extension last year because of some of the challenges had to do with construction that was happening out at I-16, but they will not extend it (again) for us,” Moore explained.

Sheridan is confident with retired county engineer Bill Causey overseeing the project that it will be done on time. Work is expected to begin by the end of the month.

Although the Riverwalk has been a work in progress for decades, Sheridan sees it as an avenue to promote wellness for people and fiscal health for the community.

People now look for an agreeable place to live and then search for work instead of following the job to settle down, he said.

“If we want jobs in Macon… we’ve got to have amenities and a trail system and a good downtown and all of that is a prime factor in raising the per capita income and therefore… the tax revenue.”

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]