LaVista/Briarcliff Intersection Improvements

Barbara_WheelerBelow is a report from our DeKalb Transportation Coordinator, Barbara Wheeler, following her conversation with Dave Pelton, Supervising Engineer at DeKalb County Transportation.

The current proposal for Briarcliff and LaVista is at a standstill, the county is working on a concept to improve the intersection, but there are some objections by the commissioners to making the intersection any bigger.

Among the constraints, the church on the corner, Peachtree Baptist Church, is historic and cannot be altered, and the Whole Foods retaining wall is also immovable.

The commissioners inquired if the intersection could be converted to a roundabout, but the available space is not adequate for a large roundabout.

GDOT has set aside some money to improve the intersection, but the commissioners are not supportive of this current concept, so it is not moving forward.

The county would welcome any creative ideas for improvements that make the intersection flow better AND be more pedestrian friendly which Mr. Pelton believes is the commissioners’ point of view (hence the roundabout idea).

Click HERE to see the current concept drawing.

What’s Up With Trail Under SR-400 & I-85

Love the Bright Orange Road Construction Barrels? You’re in Luck!
February’s weather cost the Georgia DOT contractor two weeks of work on flyover ramps linking Interstate 85  to SR-400. Traffic on Cheshire Bridge Road and Lindbergh Drive will keep dodging construction barrels at least until April.
Loren Bartlett, DOT project manager, says the project continues to move as fast as possible because of financial penalties in the state contract with Archer Western.
“The contract calls for $1869 daily penalties,” she says, noting it was to be complete by January 14, 2014.
What about the two weeks when ice and snow kept Atlanta immobile?
 
The Department will consider inclement weather as
reason to be exempt from daily fines.  The project construction budget is at $21 million. (AW’s contract is $21,423,500 for better accuracy.)
The nature trail along the creek is coming into clearer view as the ramps above are connected. By March 1 contractors laid beds of large stone along the creek, topping it with smaller gravel and compacting them into a smooth trail. The largest bridge across the main span of the North Fork is in place.  Several smaller culverts across feeder creeks will be part of the trail. At least one is poured on site, and others are expected in early March.  Decorative fences and approaches leading to the main bridge are likely to be among the last elements to be built.
Sally Sears 
Executive Director, The South Fork Conservancy

Where It All Went Wrong: If only we could undo the MARTA Compromise of 1971

Doug Monroe for Atlanta Magazine
8/1/2012

Like ghosts rising out of a Confederate cemetery, Atlanta’s past lapses in judgment haunt the region today, leaving a smoky trail of suburban decay, declining home values, clogged highways, and a vastly diminished reputation.
At the heart of the rot eating at metro Atlanta is the Mother of All Mistakes: the failure to extend MARTA into the suburbs. It wasn’t just a one-time blunder—it was the single worst mistake in a whole cluster bomb of missteps, errors, power plays, and just plain meanness that created the region’s transportation infrastructure.

As we look at the future of Atlanta, there’s no question that battling our notorious traffic and sprawl is key to the metro area’s potential vitality. What if there were a Back to the Future–type option, where we could take a mystical DeLorean (heck, we’d settle for a Buick), ride back in time, and fix something? What event would benefit most from the use of a hypothetical “undo” key?
The transit compromise of 1971.
Before we get into the story of what happened in 1971, we need to back up a few years. In 1965 the Georgia General Assembly voted to create MARTA, the mass transit system for the City of Atlanta and the five core metro counties: Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett. Cobb voters rejected MARTA, while it got approval from the city and the four other counties. Although, as it turned out, the state never contributed any dedicated funds for MARTA’s operations, in 1966 Georgia voters approved a constitutional amendment to permit the state to fund 10 percent of the total cost of a rapid rail system in Atlanta. Two years later, in 1968, voters in Atlanta and MARTA’s core counties rejected a plan to finance MARTA through property taxes. In 1971—when the issue was presented to voters again—Clayton and Gwinnett voters dropped their support, and MARTA ended up being backed by only DeKalb, Fulton, and the City of Atlanta.
In 1971, given the lack of support for MARTA by the five core counties, then Mayor Sam Massell came back with a new plan: to provide an ongoing subsidy for MARTA through a sales tax levied in Fulton, DeKalb, and the City of Atlanta. No other jurisdiction in Georgia had a local option sales tax, so the General Assembly had to approve the idea. When the notoriously anti-Atlanta legislators gave the go-ahead, Massell called a press conference that featured a flatbed truck pulling up in front of city hall, facing the Capitol, with a large billboard that said, “Thank You, Georgia Lawmakers!” Massell then dug a hole in the city hall lawn and buried a hatchet to symbolize his appreciation for the state’s rare support of the city.
In a promotional stunt worthy of Mad Men, Massell sent a bevy of young women to the Capitol in pink hot pants with little keys to the city, a proclamation expressing the city’s gratitude, and invitations to city hall for a lunch featuring fried chicken (for Lieutenant Governor Lester Maddox), peanuts (for Governor Jimmy Carter), and, of course, Coca-Cola. “We got a four-column picture—the biggest exposure we ever got from the Atlanta newspapers,” recalls Massell, now president of the Buckhead Coalition.
After getting the legislative approval for the sales-tax option, Massell had to persuade voters to pass the sales tax. “We were going to buy the existing bus company, which was then charging sixty cents and a nickel transfer each way—$1.30 a day—and they were about to go out of business. I promised the community we would drop that fare to fifteen cents each way immediately,” Massell says. The daily fare would plunge from $1.30 to thirty cents. Not everyone believed him. City Councilman Henry Dodson cruised the city in a Volkswagen with a PA system that blared, “It’s a trick! If they can’t do it for sixty cents, how are they going to do it for fifteen?”
Massell countered the VW with higher visibility, chartering a helicopter to hover over the Downtown Connector, congested even then, while he called through a bullhorn, “If you want out of this mess, vote yes!”
“This being the Bible Belt, they thought God was telling them what to do,” Massell quips today. Still, to make sure Atlantans voted his way, he rode buses throughout the city, passing out brochures to riders, and he visited community groups with a blackboard and chalk to do the math on the sales tax. Voters approved the plan by just a few hundred votes.
Another of the blunders that crippled MARTA at the outset—and haunts it to this day—was engineered behind closed doors by the segregationist Lester Maddox, according to Massell, who believes Maddox’s intervention was even more devastating than the vote not to extend MARTA into the suburbs.
After the Georgia House of Representatives approved funding MARTA through the sales tax, Massell had to approach the Georgia State Senate, where Maddox held sway. Maddox told the mayor he would block the vote in the senate unless MARTA agreed that no more than 50 percent of the sales tax revenue would go to operating costs, Massell recalls. “He called me into his office and told me that was it. Either I swallowed that or he was going to kill it and it would not pass.”
That has meant that whenever MARTA needed more money for operating expenses, it had to cut elsewhere or raise fares. As a result, MARTA has raised the fare over the years to today’s $2.50, making it one of the priciest transit systems in the country.
Although the 50 percent limit has resulted in higher fares, few people realized the ramifications of the so-called “Maddox amendment” at the time, Massell says. In fact, it actually was viewed favorably by DeKalb legislators because they were afraid MARTA would spend all its money in Atlanta before extending rail service to DeKalb, according to a thirty-six-page history of MARTA written by former State Treasurer Thomas D. Hills.
Hills’s MARTA history also illuminates why the state never contributed funds for MARTA, despite that 1966 vote that would have allowed it to. One early plan was for the MARTA sales tax to be three-quarters of a penny, with the state chipping in up to 10 percent of the cost of the system as approved by Georgia voters. But early in his administration, according to Hills’s history, then Governor Carter called MARTA attorney Stell Huie—who was on a quail-hunting trip—and said the state couldn’t afford its $25 million share for MARTA. Carter offered to raise the sales tax to a full penny if the state didn’t have to pay, and Huie agreed. The lawyer said the 1 percent sales tax plan came out of the House Committee on Ways and Means and “there was a tag end, not even part of the act, that just said the state won’t put any money in.”
Hills wrote that the events help to “explain why some representatives of state government and others in the community understand that the state’s support in allowing the local option sales tax for MARTA was a bargain in exchange for a reprieve for the state from future funding for MARTA.”
The 1965 and 1971 votes against MARTA by residents of Cobb, Clayton, and Gwinnett weren’t votes about transportation. They were referendums on race. Specifically, they were believed to be about keeping the races apart. Consider the suburbanites voting back then. The formerly rural, outlying counties had exploded with an astonishing exodus of white people fleeing the city as the black population swelled during the civil rights era. This mass migration came at a time when Atlanta was known through its public relations bluster as “The City Too Busy to Hate.”
The 1960 census counted approximately 300,000 white residents in Atlanta. From 1960 to 1980, around 160,000 whites left the city—Atlanta’s white population was cut in half over two decades, says Kevin M. Kruse, the Princeton professor who wrote White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism. Kruse notes that skeptics suggested Atlanta’s slogan should have been “The City Too Busy Moving to Hate.” “Racial concerns trumped everything else,” Kruse says. “The more you think about it, Atlanta’s transportation infrastructure was designed as much to keep people apart as to bring people together.”
In the early 1970s, Morehouse College professor Abraham Davis observed, “The real problem is that whites have created a transportation problem for themselves by moving farther away from the central city rather than living in an integrated neighborhood.”
The votes against MARTA were not the only evidence of the role of race in Atlanta’s transportation plans. The interstate highways were designed to gouge their way through black neighborhoods. Georgia Tech history professor Ronald H. Bayor, author of Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta, says the failure of the 1971 MARTA referendum in Gwinnett and Clayton was the beginning of the region’s transportation problems because of the lack of mass transit in the suburbs. Yet his research goes back to the racial reckoning behind the route of the interstate highway system that began construction in the 1950s.
The highway now called the Downtown Connector, the stretch where I-75 and I-85 run conjoined through the city, gutted black neighborhoods by forcing the removal of many working-class blacks from the central business district. It could have been worse. The highway was first designed to run smack through the headquarters of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, the city’s major black-owned business. “The original intention was to destroy that black business,” Bayor says. A protest by the black community saved the structure and moved the highway route a few blocks east, where it still managed to cut through the black community’s main street, Auburn Avenue.
Interstate 20 on the west side of town is a particularly egregious example of race-based road-building. Bayor wrote: “In a 1960 report on the transitional westside neighborhood of Adamsville . . . the Atlanta Bureau of Planning noted that ‘approximately two to three years ago, there was an “understanding” that the proposed route of the West Expressway [I-20 West] would be the boundary between the white and Negro communities.’”
The strategy didn’t work, of course, as whites fled by the tens of thousands. One of the unintended consequences of the race-based road-building is today’s traffic jams. “What happened didn’t change the racial makeup of the metro area but led to congestion within the metro area,” Bayor says.
Aside from political vengeance and racial politics, another enormous factor was at play in transportation policies of the 1960s and 1970s: Atlanta’s love affair with the automobile. The great migration out of the city started in the late 1950s—just as workers at General Motors’ vast Lakewood assembly plant in southeast Atlanta put the finishing touches on one of the most iconic cars in history: the 1957 Chevy.
The allure of roaring around Atlanta in cool cars took over and never let go. Once MARTA started running, who would ride a bus or subway when they could drive a sleek, powerful car and fill it with cheap gas? Only the people who couldn’t afford the car. MARTA became an isolated castaway, used primarily by poor and working-class blacks. Racist suburbanites brayed that the system’s acronym stood for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”
While MARTA was struggling to crank up the bus and rail system, the State of Georgia and its powerful highway department had other, bigger ideas.
David Goldberg, a former transportation reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says the road-building binge that led to the gigantic highways that course through metro Atlanta—some of the widest in the world—diminished MARTA’s potential. “It’s not a single mistake but a bunch of decisions that add up to one big mistake—the failure to capitalize on the incredible success we had in winning funding for MARTA by undermining it with the incredible success we had in getting funding for the interstate highways,” says Goldberg, now communications director for Washington-based Transportation for America. “We were too damn successful—it was an embarrassment of success. Like a lot of nouveau riche, we blew it before we knew what to do with it.”
As metro Atlanta’s geographic expansion grew white-hot, developers had to move homebuyers—those fleeing the city and others moving South from the Rust Belt—in and out of the new subdivisions they were carving from the pine forests and red clay. Georgia started “building highways expressly to enrich developers,” Goldberg says. “A whole lot of land owners and developers who knew how to do suburban development had the ear of state government and the money to buy influence. They took all that money we had and put it into developing interchanges way out from town. A lot of what was new suburban development back then is now underused, decaying, and part of an eroding tax base in the older suburban areas.”
The vast highway system sucked up billions of federal dollars while the state refused to put a penny into MARTA—until the past fifteen years, during which it helped buy some buses. “The sick joke of it all is that we built the place to be auto-oriented and designed it about as bad as we could to function for auto use,” Goldberg says. “The highway network we did build was designed in a way almost guaranteed to produce congestion—the land use around all that development put the nail in the coffin.” He refers to the neighborhoods full of cul-de-sacs that force cars onto crowded arterial roads lined with commercial activity, then force them to merge onto the freeways, which eventually funnel down to one highway through the heart of Atlanta.

More than forty years later, what does the failure to create MARTA as a regional system mean for Atlanta? Christopher B. Leinberger, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution and professor at George Washington University, has been watching Atlanta’s growth—and decline—for decades. In January he declared, “Atlanta is no longer Hotlanta.” He cited the free fall from the number eighty-ninespot on the list of the world’s 200 fastest-growing metro areas to ranking at 189 in just five years. Not to mention the plunge of 29 percent in average housing price per square foot between 2000 and 2010. Not to mention that Atlanta has the eleventh-most-congested traffic of 101 metro areas in the country.
“The big mistake was not taking advantage of MARTA,” Leinberger says. “Atlanta was given by the federal taxpayers a tremendous gift that they squandered as far as MARTA. It’s not just that Atlanta did not take advantage of it. They didn’t expand it and they didn’t recognize that it could allow them to build a balanced way of developing.”
Leinberger agrees that part of the region’s blindness toward MARTA’s potential was the belief “that the car was the be-all and end-all forever. The other part was the basic racism that still molds how Atlanta is built.”
The most maddening realization is that the once virtually all-white suburbs that voted against MARTA years ago are today quite diverse and reflect Atlanta’s evolution from a biracial city to a multiracial, multiethnic one. Today’s suburbs are not only home to African Americans, but also Latino, Asian, and Eastern European immigrants. The city’s diversity is projected to increase over the coming decades (see page 68). Many of the people who voted against MARTA decades ago are dead or retired. The suburban lifestyle they were so eager to defend has lost much of its cachet as gas prices soar and houses don’t sell. Smart young people up to their necks in college debt don’t want to spend their money and time driving cars back and forth; they want to live in town. Atlanta’s only neighborhoods to gain inflation-adjusted housing value in the past decade, Leinberger notes, were Virginia-Highland, Grant Park, and East Lake.
The Georgia Sierra Club’s opposition to the July 31 referendum on a regional transportation sales tax—on the grounds that the plan, despite including a majority for transit, was a sprawl-inducing road expansion—troubled Leinberger. “That’s a dangerous strategy. From what everybody tells me, this is a one-off.” He says the state legislature has traditionally treated Atlanta like a child, and is saying, “Finally, one time only, children, are we going to let you decide for yourself. This is it.”
The July 31 vote is “an Olympic moment,” he says. “If the vote fails, you have to accept the fact that Atlanta will continue to decline as a metro area.” Forty years from now, will we look back at failure to pass the referendum as a mistake as devastating as the 1971 MARTA compromise?
Atlanta faces a classic problem. It boomed in the go-go decades at the end of the twentieth century when everyone zoomed alone in their cars from home to office to store. Now it must move beyond what worked in the past to a new era that demands a new way of building, with up to 70 percent of new development oriented around transit, Leinberger says. “Atlanta has a lot of catching up to do, but it’s hard for old dogs to learn new tricks.”
The never-ending ramifications of a race-based transportation infrastructure, built to accommodate a suburban driving lifestyle that has started to die off in a state that has traditionally refused to embrace mass transit, could doom Atlanta to a future as a newer, sunnier Detroit.
“It only takes a generation-plus of yinning when you should have yanged to wake up and say, ‘Oh my God! How did it happen?’” says outgoing MARTA General Manager Beverly A. Scott, who watched from afar the decline of her hometown, Cleveland.
Atlanta’s failure to build out MARTA looks even more shameful when compared with what happened with similar transit systems in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., which started at the same time as MARTA, she says. “The reality is, this region got stuck. We have about half the build-out of what it was planned to be.” But San Francisco and Washington “kept building and moving . . . they had plans regardless of whether folks were red or blue. They had a vision and the fortitude to make purple and keep moving. We just got stuck.”
MARTA was born out of Atlanta’s giant ego in the days when the city was entering the major leagues across the board—baseball, football, international airport—bolstered by a racially harmonious reputation unmatched in the South, deserved or not. “You said to yourself, ‘We’re top-notch. Everybody’s got to have a rail system,’” Scott says. “But it was built as a manifestation of ‘we have arrived’ without a bigger vision of ‘what do we want to do for our region?’ You built it like a trophy.” Indeed, some of the Downtown MARTA stations were built on a scale that would please a pharaoh.
Yet Scott says she is no doomsayer. During her tenure at MARTA, she has seen marked progress in forging the civic- political infrastructure necessary to build an integrated transportation network. Her concern is that the region is at a critically urgent juncture in the process and can’t afford to lose focus or momentum.“There’s still much work to be done,” she says.
Word about Atlanta’s transportation muddle has gotten around. Scott says she’s been privy to meetings during which corporate relocation experts tell Chamber of Commerce members: “Hey, Atlanta is not only not at the top tier anymore, we’ve got companies saying, ‘Don’t put the Atlanta region on the list.’” It’s not just the congestion and pollution—“they’re not seeing leadership or plans to get yourself out of the fix.”
Atlanta’s leaderless transportation fix is the ultimate example of the admonition, “Be careful what you pray for.”
“This is the irony: The majority of whites in Atlanta wanted to be isolated when they thought about public transportation,” says historian Kevin Kruse. “As a result, they have been in their cars on 75 and 85. They got what they wanted. They are safe in their own space. They’re just not moving anywhere.”

Public Meeting About Nature Trail Set for April 10

By Sally Sears
A plan to link two  major nature preserves in Virginia-Highland and Morningside is gaining momentum in the neighborhood.
The South Fork Conservancy and  Park Pride are leading discussions about a trail along the south fork of  Peachtree Creek connecting Morningside Nature Preserve and Herbert  Taylor-Daniel Johnson Nature Preserve.
The first public meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 10 at 6 p.m. at Haygood  Methodist Church could demonstrate some of the benefits and challenges  of creating more greenspace with easy access to walkers, joggers and  perhaps bikers.
Creek  cleanups and trail building are expected later in the spring.
Here’s  what one avid creek paddler found on a cleanup downstream from Cheshire  Bridge Road.
From Richard Grove, Georgia Kayaker:
There are good river days and there are great river days. Today was a great one. Today  after 9.5 hours, 25 more tires were removed along with 3 shopping  carts, some carpet, a picnic table umbrella, 3 golf balls, mirror,  fishing reel, vehicle tail light lens, sleeping bag, trash can lid, PVC  pipe, wire, metal stud, shoes, shirts, roof shingles, safety fence, silt  fence, fire extinguisher, lots of aluminum cans, plastic bags &  bottles, a disposable razor. Still looking for a toothbrush. The pile is  huge. Next work day will be from Cheshire Bridge Road.
I have  never removed a Herbie trash container or a shopping cart from the  river. I thought the Herbie was a bear to get out but nothing compared  to the shopping carts which took more than an hour to dig each one out.
One  day next week I will cut up the tree in the river across from the trash  pile area which will make the river look much better from that view  point.
I see and hear people walking the trail when I am in the  river working but the only chance I get to talk to anyone is when I’m  either starting or finishing and at my truck.. When I was cleaning in  the area of the trash pile several people came to the riverbank to say,  hello. Sunday I met a couple who walk the trail several times a week.
A  year from now there will probably be less trash in the river but more  on the trail. Fact-of-life, Americans are pigs. Where they go so come  their trash.
Sally Sears is the Executive Director of the South Fork Conservancy,  a nonprofit that seeks to restore, conserve and protect the Riparian systems of the South Fork of Peachtree Creek Watershed. Follow South Fork on Facebook. Learn more on their website.

Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative Announces Locally Preferred Alternative

by Jane P. Rawlings, LLCC Transportation Coordinator
 

MARTA Planning staff has completed the review of community feedback and technical analysis and have finalized a recommended locally preferred alternative (LPA) for the Clifton Corridor. The LPA is the alternative that, based on technical analysis and stakeholder input, would most effectively address the needs of the corridor and goals and objectives of the project.
The recommended LPA includes 8.8 miles of new light rail transit (LRT) service connecting the Lindbergh MARTA Station to the Emory/Clifton Corridor and beyond to the Avondale MARTA Station. The recommendation for the locally preferred alternative includes several tunnels and one of those tunnels extends from an area west of Lenox Road to an area just west of Briarcliff Road.
MARTA Planning staff will present the LPA recommendation to the MARTA Planning and External Relations Committee on March 26 at 10:00 a.m. and to the MARTA Board on April 9 at 1:30 p.m.  There will be a public comment period prior to the Board meeting only.  Both meetings will be held at:
MARTA Headquarters, 6th Floor Board Room, 2424 Piedmont Road, Atlanta, GA 30324.
Upon MARTA Board approval, the agency will present the LPA to the Atlanta Regional Commission for adoption and incorporation into the long-range transportation plan. Afterwards, the LPA will be advanced through the next step in the federal project development process which is the completion of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). This study will go into much more detailed level of analysis as compared to the Alternatives Analysis (AA).
The Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition (LLCC) in conjunction with the Morningside Lenox Park Association (MLPA), and the Woodland Hills Neighborhood Association (WHNA) hired Heather Alhadeff, Senior Transportation Planner with Perkins + Will, to assist us in disseminating information to the public, collecting this input, and preparing a formal document for inclusion in the AA. This document which includes a summary along with all results and comments from our surveys is included. To view this report click HERE. Inclusion in the report best positions our communities in the federal process moving forward.
The Fact Sheet recently released by MARTA has concerned some in our community as it did not mention tunneling of the project or a Morningside station. The purpose of a Fact Sheet is to comment ONLY on the alignment and technology preferences for the project. It is not intended to address the project in great detail. For this type of information one will have to review the study document. I have reached out to Jason Morgan, Project Manager, for the CCTI requesting additional summary details regarding the second segment (from Cheshire Bridge to Briarcliff) as I have received emails with questions. I share below his comments in an effort to address some of these matters and provide clarity to the public.
Email correspondence from Jason Morgan, Project Manager MARTA:
The fact sheet that has been distributed does not preclude the tunnel.  The tunnel is part of the proposal. In fact, there are three tunnels that are included with the proposal. The second and third tunnels are further east along the alignment. The fact sheet is not intended to go into the details regarding where every tunnel or elevated structure is located.  We have other materials which illustrate the specific station concepts and tunnel proposals. We have done our best to balance the comments from members of the community throughout the entire project corridor with our best technical analysis. The LLCC report has provided valuable insight into the perspective of residents in this section of the corridor, but the project team must consider cost and potential construction issues as well.
With that said:

  • A bored light rail tunnel is proposed to run parallel to and beneath the northside of CSX  right-of-way.
  • The tunnel depth will be a  minimum of 55 feet.  The specifics of the tunnel design will be  determined during the Environmental Impact Study which has been targeted to begin later this year.
  • Specific impacts and compensation are quantified during the Environmental Impact Study and in accordance with guidelines identified within the National Environmental Policy Act. Keep in mind, this corridor is 8.8 miles long and most of the potential impacts or displacements we can estimate at this stage are in areas where the alignment is above ground.
  • While a station at Lenox Road was requested to be examined, ultimately many residents expressed trepidation about having a station close to their homes.  In addition, there was a significant additional estimated cost associated with building a subway station at this location.  The suggestion from attendees at the October 25 meeting as well via many comments was to add a walking trail that would connect Lenox Road to the station at Cheshire Bridge.  This trail could be integrated with the South Fork of Peachtree Creek trail as well as others.

Revised station concepts and alignment concepts are currently being updated to the project website (www.itsmarta.com/clifton-corr.aspx). MARTA hopes to have everything activated by later this week.

DeKalb County Addresses North Druid Hills Road Construction

By Jonathan Cribbs for North Druid HIlls – Briarcliff Patch

The widening project along North Druid Hills Road will cost $2.6 million and last about 15 months
A number of people have emailed me over the last few days about this construction on North Druid Hills Road. I got a response today from DeKalb County spokesman Burke Brennan, and, before I write a more detailed story, I figured I would pass his email along to you guys who want to know more about it.
Here is Brennan’s email to me:

The project will widen North Druid Hills Road from Briarcliff Road to Woodcliff Drive in order to extend the left-turn lane to Briarcliff Road southbound. North Druid Hills Road will also be widened from Briarcliff Road to the west, toward Interstate 85, in order to provide a third westbound receiving lane for the double left turn lane from Briarcliff Road northbound. Briarcliff Road will also be widened to provide an additional southbound through lane from North Druid Hills Rd to Sheridan Drive.
The project is expected to ease traffic congestion and reduce delays for drivers who use this intersection every day.  In addition, new ADA compliant sidewalks, upgraded traffic signals, and crosswalks will enhance the safety of pedestrians who pass through the area.

Funding for the project comes from revenue from the 2005 bond referendum for infrastructure projects. Construction is estimated to take approximately 15 months at a cost of approximately $2.6 million. The contractor for the project is Desmear Systems, Inc.

Now, does that mean motorists on that road can expect the same kind of delays for the next 15 months? I’m not sure. Either way, I doubt it’s going to be pretty considering how awfully congested that road is most of the time anyway. (It’s a primary reason I grocery shop at 1 in the morning.) It’s going to be split into phases, and Brennan is currently looking into that for me now. Like I said, I’ll have a more detailed story on it for you guys once I get all the information. This is for those of you wondering what the heck is going on out there.
UPDATE: Brennan just emailed me back regarding the phases.
Here’s his response:

It will be up to the contractor to decide how to phase his work.   However, he is not going to be working in the road all of the time, so  his impacts to traffic are going to be variable during the life of the  project.

Long-awaited Buckhead interchange revamp starts

Barrier walls were due to go up Tuesday at the interchange of Interstate 85 and Georgia 400 in Buckhead, marking the start of a long-anticipated reconstruction project.
Contractors working for the Georgia Department of Transportation will build ramps that will let southbound motorists on 400 connect with northbound I-85 and southbound drivers on I-85 connect to 400 northbound.
Those ramps were not included when the interchange was built in the early 1990s.
“We are excited to get this project under way,” DOT District Engineer Bryant Poole said. “When it is completed, I think the public will be very pleased with the final product, as we get some congestion relief for the arterial roads in the area.”
No lane closures will be necessary in the early stages of the work. Later, lane closures will be permitted only during evenings and weekends.
The DOT awarded a $21.5 million contract for the project last year to Atlanta-based Archer Western Contractors Ltd. The project is due to be completed by the end of next year.

Staff Writer – Atlanta Business Chronicle

SR-400/I-85 Connector Ramps Update

This project, which will reconstruct the interchange of Ga. 400 and I-85 by providing connector ramps from Ga. 400 southbound to I-85 northbound and from I-85 southbound to Ga. 400 northbound, is scheduled to begin in late February, Georgia DOT spokesman Mark McKinnon told Q&A on the News in an email. The project will cost $21.5 million and is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 31, 2013. Archer Western Contractors is the contractor. Also, a pedestrian trail, which will include a bridge across North Fork Peachtree Creek, will be constructed from Cheshire Bridge Road to Lenox Road.
To see an animation of the new interchange, use the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbi_jVclZLM

Explore a New Trail Near Peachtree Creek

By Sally Sears
Invitation  to explore a meadow in winter — it’s a newly created trail through a  long-ignored slice of Midtown, beside Peachtree Creek and Interstate 85.  Popular tours of the trails last week gave dogs, owners and neighbors a  walk in nature.
The  neighbors and the South Fork Conservancy are carving a new vision for  caring for our intown creeks. Simple trails through the landscape beside  the south and north forks encourage people to walk their dogs, breathe  deeply and re-discover big hardwoods hiding in plain sight on public  land. This meadow is interstate right of way, next to a neighborhood  with almost no accessible greenspace.
Two years of cooperation helped to  build this mulch trail, weaving along the creek and through a meadow of  wild flowers and grasses.  Neighbors hope to connect the trails under  the interstate to the Morningside Nature Preserve, Zonolite Park and  then to the Herbert Taylor-Daniel Johnson Nature Preserve.
If  you want to walk it, the trail head is just across the guard rail at  Lindbergh Drive and I-85. On street parking available at Lindbergh Drive  and  Armand Road.
More information is available at the South Fork Conservancy website.
Sally Sears is the Executive Director of thr South Fork Conservancy, a nonprofit that seeks to restore, conserve and protect the Riparian systems of the South Fork of Peachtree Creek Watershed. This article appeared in the Virginia Highland/North Druid Hills Patch on January 11, 2012.

The Tricky Second Wave of Urban Highway Removals

Dismantling urban freeways—replacing elevated viaducts of steel and concrete with parks and boulevards—is happening in so many places, it’s like an unspoken national urban policy. We’ve reached a unique point in city-building when the destruction of a public works project has all the glamour and buzz of breaking ground on a new one.

The “death row” of roadways, marvelously packaged by Eric Jaffe in this slideshow and noted in Michael Kimmelman’s dispatch from highway-erasing Madrid, has become a familiar, almost comforting narrative.
Portland, Ore., led the way, turning the multi-lane Harbor Drive into the Tom McCall Waterfront Park at a time when other cities were still blasting roadways through the urban fabric. San Francisco was prompted by the earthquake of 1989 to re-create the Embarcadero; Seattle anticipated a similar fate for the Alaskan Way Viaduct. In Milwaukee, an ambitious mayor, John Norquist, championed the demolition of the Park East Expressway. He later became president of the Congress for the New Urbanism and encouraged others to do the same. In New Orleans, fascination with the Treme neighborhood post-Katrina drew attention to the hulking Claiborne Expressway burdening its core.
And then there’s New York, where Robert Moses famously built hundreds of miles of roads throughout the metropolitan area, including the Sheridan Expressway, now set to come down. Moses suggested or designed or laid the foundation for many more urban freeways, from Portland to New Orleans and beyond. In a fitting coup de grace, New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D) backed the replacement of the Robert Moses Parkway outside Buffalo, the urban highway named for the great master builder himself.
But if all those projects are blockbuster movies, some cities are now moving on to the sequels. It’s time for the Son of the Sheridan, and Alaskan Way II.
Whether this stage of urban design interventions can be pulled off in quite the same slam-dunk fashion as the Embarcadero is very much in question. The infrastructure being re-engineered is similarly from a half-century ago, and exclusively built with the car as priority. But the scale is a bit smaller. Rather than big elevated interstates through downtowns, these are connectors and overpasses, sometimes a long way from the center of town, where the neighborhoods are defined on different terms.
The perfect example of this trickle-down dismantling can be found in, where else, Boston, home of the $15.6 billion Big Dig, arguably the biggest, best-known, and most expensive act of removing an elevated highway.
The three post-Big Dig interventions are surely less well-known around the country, but passions about them are running just as high: the McGrath/O’Brien Highway in Somerville and the Rutherford Avenue connector through Charlestown, both north of the city, and the Casey Overpass in Jamaica Plain, well south of downtown.
First, a little context. Boston’s freeway revolt started after 1968, when Jane Jacobs fought the Lower Manhattan Expressway in SoHo. The city put a park and a transit line in the planned corridor of the Southwest Expressway, which would have extended Interstate 95 from Rhode Island all the way into Back Bay. A Republican governor, Frank Sargent, put an end to the Inner Belt, envisioned as a mini-circumferential highway whisking motorists through Roxbury and other Boston neighborhoods, Cambridge, and a piece of Somerville, rejoining Interstate 93 there. The turnoff ramp remains, a stub ending abruptly at the sky.
The Big Dig took things to the next level, not just stopping new highways but dismantling one that had become an eyesore. The suppression of Interstate 93 gave Boston the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Younger folks can’t remember the Central Artery ever being there.
McGrath, Rutherford, and Casey are all similarly unsightly, and like the Central Artery or Alaskan Way Viaduct, falling apart; a trip over the crumbling and pothole-ridden Casey Overpass conjures a trek in the Third World. Like the failing Longfellow Bridge and Storrow Drive, they either need to be rebuilt as is, or retooled. The sustainability and Complete Streets crowd has lobbied hard for the latter, arguing for multi-modal surface boulevards.
Not so fast. Nearby residents, who conceivably might be thrilled to see this kind of transformation, want to keep the roadway like it was in 1962, not 2012. They worry about commuters getting frustrated by surface rejiggering and attempting shortcuts through residential streets.
The hearings and the public process on these three interventions have revealed a cultural clash: old vs. young, bicyclists vs. solo drivers, yuppies vs. townies, and so on. The fight is in the trenches, in long discussions and blog posts on traffic counts, state modeling and projections, and the methodology of license plate surveys. Everyone’s voice must be heard, a legacy of the exclusion of citizens in the original construction of the roadways, but seemingly a guarantee of paralysis when it comes to repairing the damage they have caused.
Tim Love, associate professor at Northeastern University, principal at Utile, and an urban designer on the multi-disciplinary team studying alternative futures for McGrath, thinks that more sophisticated data available to project teams will help better frame the transportation and quality of life issues, demystifying claims made by various sides.
“There’s an evolution in these kinds of second-generation de-elevation projects,” Love says, that promotes a more sophisticated public discourse. “Some early testing of the physical implications of transportation alternatives is already uniting the stakeholders around smart alternatives.” He says he is confident that “the outcome will be a fully-integrated enhancement to the urban realm.”
An optimistic view, to be sure. I’m a bit more reminded of my top-floor bathroom and its 1970s ski-lodge decor and giant pale blue whirlpool that hasn’t worked for years. The full-scale renovation that other parts of the house enjoyed is so daunting in there, we just keep it as is, hoping it doesn’t fall apart completely anytime soon.
Photo credit: David McNew/Reuters

Anthony Flint is a fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a think tank in Cambridge, Mass., and author of Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City and This Land: The Battle Over Sprawl and the Future of America.