Ok, I’m being sardonic here. This is a terrible mess that has a semblance to the movie “Groundhog Day,” where the city is destined to relive the same situation ad infinitum.
A few days ago, Atlanta Councilman Alex Wan, who represents the area, announced some good news/bad news. He said the bridge won’t need to be torn down. But it will take 10 weeks to fix. It will include, he said, “shoring up the existing supports and replacing a portion of the bridge.” That determination came from Atlanta’s transportation department.
Steven Eads, the manager of a nearby vacuum shop, took photos of workers drilling through the bridge and into the bedrock below, indicating that crews will install pylons and then new support beams. A contractor has not yet been chosen.
As to the 10 weeks of closure, if Las Vegas was taking under/over bets on this, I’d go with the “over.”
The unhappy situation here is compounded by the fact that just half a mile north up Cheshire Bridge, Lavista Road has been closed for nearly two months to the 17,500 daily vehicles because of a massive apartment fire there. The remnants of the building are in danger of falling onto that road, causing motorists to detour through nearby neighborhoods or the shopping mall on the corner.
It’s certainly a sad state of affairs that two major thoroughfares are closed in a major metropolitan city within half of mile of each other. But that’s where we are.
Cheshire’s most recent fire started in a homeless encampment under a bridge crossing the CSX railroad tracks. Security video from the adjacent vacuum shop shows a fire starting after midnight and blowing up into a conflagration within minutes, indicating the use of accelerants or at least some type of accelerant lying around on the scene. The video shows a man running off.
Two weeks ago, I visited the encampment across from the fire scene and described the well-built wooden structure as a three-bedroom (tent) condo with sofas, easy chairs, a “credenza” and a kitchen area. It also had a full gallon can of gasoline, as well as a large container of lighter fluid and a Weber grill.
A visit Wednesday found nothing but red Georgia clay under that bridge. The city tore down the structure days earlier.
Credit: Bill Torpy
Credit: Bill Torpy
Eads, who has been wearing out the city’s 911 and 311 lines for months, if not years, said that no one from the city has asked him for the video, even though it’s been out there on the news.
The problem with homelessness and encampments is deeply problematic and endemic. And it has put city leaders in a dilemma: If they play hard and run off the homeless and scrape away their encampments, then they are being heartless. If they do nothing or little, then residents and business owners get frustrated and grumble that their government is turning a deaf ear.
I’ve spoken with numerous residents, business owners and even firefighters who have said there have been dozens, if not scores, of fires under bridges in recent years.
“If you look at fire calls one mile from here, I’d say you’d have 200″ in the past few years, Eads told me.
Go up Cheshire Bridge a mile north to I-85 and then Buford Highway, and you’ll find a dystopian collection of lean-tos, tents and other structures — as well as mountains of garbage and trash. As Buford Highway crosses a stream, there’s a bridge with a massive wooden structure underneath. It’s a place where stolen shopping carts go to die. Perhaps hundreds of them.
I saw a man raking something. I climbed the guardrail to try and interview its inhabitants but was met by two growling, and untethered pit bulls. I took that as a “no comment.”
Prevailing wisdom is that the fires are started by homeless people cooking or to keep warm and that they catch onto belongings and debris and get out of control.
But I kept hearing from residents and businesses owners that some of the encampments have had running feuds. And that arson has been used as a weapon.
“People just don’t understand; there’s a whole society underground and sometimes they’ll battle it out,” said a veteran firefighter who has responded to countless fires under bridges and in homeless encampments.
“They have wars and burn each other out,” he said, before referring to cinematic themes. “You heard or ‘Gangs of New York?’ This is the Gangs of Cheshire Bridge.”
It’s a real-life movie that will probably have many sequels to come.