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Building a Park in the Air

The park on the Fifth Street Bridge is a favorite tailgating location for Georgia Tech fans on game day.

Georgia Tech built its beautiful Technology Square in 2003 across the Atlanta Downtown Connector from the main campus. To reach the new buildings, students typically walked across the sidewalk of the Fifth Street bridge, with its concrete parapets and chain-link fence, crossing fifteen lanes of speeding traffic.

Tech planners envisioned instead a wide-open space with grass and shrubs and trees, with wide sidewalks and benches to sit and enjoy the setting. Mike Williams, founder and president of Sunbelt Structures, called the idea a park in the air, and his company won the contract to make that park a reality.

The Fifth Street Pedestrian Plaza Bridge has become everything the planners had hoped—a gathering place for students during the week and alumni before and after games or other on-campus events, as well as a pleasant bridge for walking, riding, or driving from one area of campus to the other.

And while drivers and pedestrians marvel at the result, they may not realize all the work that was required beneath them. Among the many challenges Sunbelt faced in constructing the bridge was upgrading the antiquated drainage system twenty feet below that segment of the Downtown Connector.

“They started out with one size to handle X amount of water,” Mike Williams says, “but with more runoff every time there was a new building or parking lot, they needed more drainage.”

Sunbelt had to dig forty feet down and two hundred feet wide to safely work on the drainage system, making upgrades to both storm drainage as well as trunk sewer lines directly under the highway, all the while fulfilling their requirement to keep both the Downtown Connector and the bridge open through the construction process.

“All of the yellow iron we used was Cat® equipment,” Williams says. The bridge opened in 2007, and years later trees and other vegetation have matured. It’s easy for a pedestrian to forget there are fifteen lanes of traffic below when walking through the park in the air.

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