Since the Chattahoochee RiverWalk was built back in the mid-1990s, there have been two gaps in the 22-mile linear park that stretches from the City Marina at its north end to Fort Benning at its south.
Users are forced off the path and onto First Avenue for short breaks at the City Mill just north of TSYS and again at the North Highland Dam in Bibb City.
Now, about 20 years later, the city is about to patch those two gaps using $10 million designated from the 2012 Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Getting past City Mill will be relatively simple compared to getting the RiverWalk and its users up and over the steep hillside next to the dam and into the west end of the remnants of the old Bibb Mill, where it will connect with the existing RiverWalk.
City Planning Director Rick Jones, who is shepherding the projects, said they will be performed simultaneously. He said he hopes to send out requests for bids as early as November, but possibly at the beginning of the year. After bids are opened and builders are chosen, construction should take about a year, he said.
"The primary engineering challenge was figuring out how to get people up over that dam safely and at the same time making it aesthetically pleasing," Jones said.
The climb will be accomplished by taking the RiverWalk across the access road that whitewater rafters now use to get to the river, then snaking it partway up the hill to the right of the dam.
Then a three-section bridge will carry users the rest of the way up and onto the old mill grounds.
"It will give a spectacular view back down the river and to some extent upriver, too," Jones said. "It will in some ways replicate the views the old Bibb Mill could have provided us."
Part of the process of engineering and designing the project was working with Georgia Power Co., which owns the hydroelectric North Highland Dam, and with area landowners, Jones said.
"We had great cooperation with Georgia Power.
They had some issues in terms of security and potential impact on their operation down there," Jones said. "We've been working with adjoining property owners to get them to buy into it and we think we've got that. I think everybody realizes the potential of the project."
Jones sees the completion of the two projects, and the elimination of the two gaps, as more than a bonus just for RiverWalk users.
"I'd like to think that when we complete it we will have opened up another highway, in this case for bikers, pedestrians and runners," Jones said.
"We feel like it will open the RiverWalk up to more traffic along there, which will in turn make property along there more valuable. I think it will help open that area up to development."