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Rex bridge closure riles business community

Photo by Joel Hall
Built in 1936, the one-lane bridge leading to Rex Village serves as a gateway to the historic community. County officials recently deemed the bridge unsafe, and will close it to vehicular traffic, as of Oct. 21.

Photo by Joel Hall Built in 1936, the one-lane bridge leading to Rex Village serves as a gateway to the historic community. County officials recently deemed the bridge unsafe, and will close it to vehicular traffic, as of Oct. 21.

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

For the past few years, Clayton County officials have been working hand-in-hand with the Rex business community to redevelop the historic Rex Village. Some residents say, however, that recent moves by the county to bar vehicles from traveling on a one-lane bridge, leading into the village, may work to derail those efforts.

As of Oct. 21, the county will close the one-lane bridge adjacent to Rex Mill, to vehicular traffic, county officials said.

According to members of the Rex Village Association, a group of homeowners and business owners in the historic community, signs advertising the closure were put on opposite sides of the bridge on Thursday, with no prior warning being given to local property owners.

The bridge, built in 1936, serves as one of two entry points into the village, which now sits under a bypass constructed last year by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT).

According to District 1 Commissioner Sonna Singleton, converting the bridge into a pedestrian-only bridge was part of the original development plans for the village, established approximately 15 years ago.

"That one-lane bridge became structurally unsound," Singleton said. "It was long ago when the plans were in the works to close the bridge [to vehicles]. There were public hearings held at Adamson Middle School and the public came and had input ... I attended those meetings as a citizen.

"It was all part of the plan to close that bridge to vehicular traffic, and it was going to become a pedestrian-only bridge," she added. "What is taking place in Rex, this was decided years ago."

Members of the Rex Village Association, however, said they were blind-sided by the county's decision, and have expressed economic, as well as safety concerns. Several business owners said they fear closing the bridge to vehicles will hurt local businesses, and make it difficult for ambulances and public safety vehicles to access the community.

"That bridge is like a pair of open arms to the public," said Jerry Beddingfield, who owns the historic Rex Mill. "The whole idea [of the Rex Village redevelopment] is to keep it vibrant, and what this does is the exact opposite. It's like shutting down the main artery.

"It's [the bridge is] good enough for garbage trucks and tractors," he continued. "We just need it for small cars and trucks. I've never seen a pretty barrier ... it's going to create an eyesore."

Naomi Gilson, owner of House of Naomi, a seamstress business on Rex Road, has operated her store near the entrance of the one-lane bridge for the past eight years. She said the bridge closure will make it more difficult for potential clients to find her, and may eventually drive her out of business.

"They [customers] already can't find it because they have rerouted the bridge [with the bypass]," Gilson said. "Now, they are shutting that way down. No one called, no one notified us ... we should, at least, be able to tell our clients."

Gilson said that freight trains regularly cut off access to the village, opposite the one-lane bridge, and that barring vehicles from entering the bridge may make the village unapproachable and inescapable in an emergency situation.

"We won't be able to get out, if we need to," she said.

Keith Rohling, assistant director of the Clayton County Transportation and Development Department, said GDOT recently gave the one-lane bridge a low structural integrity rating. He said replacing or shutting down the bridge to traffic was necessary for the safety of the public.

"Georgia DOT does the bridge inspections for us to see if all bridges are safe and structurally sound," Rohling said. "That one rated low on its structural integrity. Because it rates so low, we just can't let vehicles across.

"It's becoming more unsafe," he said. "Instead of waiting until something bad happens, we wanted to do something about it now."

Paul Abraham, president of the Rex Village Association, said the county's handling of the bridge has become a "trust issue" between the county and local business owners. He said the bridge may become an issue that slows down the redevelopment of the area.

"Right now, we don't know what we are going to do ... we are kind of caught off guard," said Abraham. "As business owners, we don't know anything until a sign goes up. We can't see people being cooperative moving forward with this.

"They [the county] are trying to build bridges, but they are burning bridges," he added. "Closing down that bridge is going to make everyone move away."

Earlier this week, Rex Village was added to the state's "Places in Peril" list as an historic site worthy of protection. Commissioner Singleton said she hopes the bridge issue will not halt plans to redevelop the area and make it economically viable.

"I really hope that this doesn't discourage anyone from donating or contributing to this effort," she said. "I would hope that the residents would not do anything to hold up a project that would do so much for the county."