Closed for good?

Historic Lake Junaluska bridge will be costly to fix
By Vicki Hyatt | Feb 13, 2017

LAKE JUNALUSKA — The fate of the one-lane bridge used to access Lake Junaluska for nearly a century is very much up in the air.

The bridge was closed to vehicular traffic in September after a visual inspection revealed structural concerns and an engineering study was done.

Lake Junaluska Assembly leaders will discuss the report and bridge options at its March 2-3 meeting, and then a community meeting will be held later on to present the options to the community.

Jack Ewing, chief executive officer at Lake Junaluska Assembly, said the initial report indicated that bridge restoration would be very expensive.

“The engineers have been charged with bringing back additional information for our March meeting,” Ewing said. “The executive committee will not make a decision about which way to go without input from the community.”

Before a meeting is scheduled, the engineers will prepare a list of options and the costs associated with each option  — the facts needed to make an informed decision on the next step.

Some of the options could include building a new bridge or even a two-lane bridge, repairing the existing bridge or simply keeping the bridge open to pedestrian traffic only, considering there are alternate routes to access all facilities at the lake.

In keeping with the new motto at the lake — to make upgrades consistent with 21st century technology — whatever option chosen will be one that will best position the community for sustainability for years to come.

“Whatever we do will cost us money because we want it to be safe long into the future,” Ewing said.

As an unincorporated community, loans and grants aren't available to Lake Junaluska as they would be to cities and towns in the state. However, residents and the Christian retreat center for the southern conference of the United Methodist Church have a leadership council, which acts in concert with a community council, to oversee the public service functions such as water, sewer, roads, public safety, trash and other community needs.

The council has the ability to impose a uniform assessment on property within the jurisdiction boundary and to collect fees as set by the leadership to fund needed services.

Below the radar

The bridge safety issue came up almost by chance. Ewing said the decking on the bridge has been regularly replaced through the years, and in searching for a more permanent solution, he decided it would be a good idea to look into the overall bridge stability.

“That lead to engineers studying the bridge and a report that said vehicular traffic isn’t recommended,” Ewing said. “We closed the bridge about 15 minutes after reading the report.”

While the pedestrian bridge attached to the bridge remains open, vehicle traffic is banned for the foreseeable future.

“Engineers are very cautious, but it is very clear from both observation and studies that there is a need to repair and replace some of the concrete members for it to be restored to vehicle traffic,” Ewing said.

On the bright side, the dam that forms Lake Junaluska is “very solid,” Ewing said and is regularly inspected by the state.