By John Schaffner
When the Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID) began its 10-12 month study of traffic and transportation issues on the Piedmont Road corridor earlier this year, one of the things it hoped to accomplish was to ignite a plan to complete the intersection of Ga. 400 with I-85.
Buckhead leaders claim the failure of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to create proper access from Ga. 400 onto I-85 northbound and from I-85 north to Ga. 400 northbound, constantly creates major surface street congestion on Piedmont Road and throughout Buckhead.
“One of the things we hope to use the study for is to reignite the conversation about completing the Ga. 400 connection with I-85 north, which creates a huge unnecessary surface street bottleneck,” Scotty Greene, executive director of the Buckhead CID, told the Buckhead Reporter.
“That traffic shouldn’t be on the road. It should all be going north on an interstate access system,” Greene explained. “It is like water filling up in a bowl and it backs up into Buckhead whenever any of these big outlets are shut down or jammed.”
The design of taking cars north to I-85 northbound has always been there, Greene said. “They have just not ever put the final funding touches together. It is all about money.”
Well, maybe the Piedmont Corridor study has accomplished that one goal, long before its completion or it has even reached the formal recommendation stage.
After much lobbying by Buckhead business leaders, GDOT has said that in August it expects to give contractor HNTB Cos. the go-ahead to proceed with engineering work on the completion of that I-85/Ga. 400 interchange.
Waiting these many years may prove to be quite costly. With right-of-way and construction costs escalating rapidly, GDOT Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl has reportedly estimated the project could cost $100 million, four times the original estimate.
He also said, however, if the state waits much longer the project may not happen at all.
At present, drivers wanting to go from I-85 south to Ga. 400 north, or from Ga. 400 south to I-85 north, must exit and head to surface streets, clogging Lenox, Piedmont and Roxboro Roads and Sidney Marcus Boulevard and eventually spilling onto Piedmont Road.
GDOT has reportedly decided to move ahead with the engineering contract but the department doesn’t yet have funding for right-of-way acquisition or construction. In fact, GDOT is $200 billion short of what it needs to build everything on the drawing boards over the next 30 years.
But there are some indications other projects might take a back seat to work on this interchange.
But getting the I-85/Ga. 400 interchange completed is not the only goal of the Piedmont corridor study.
The study is encompassing all of Piedmont Road from Roswell Road on the north end to I-85 on the south end. “That is enormous,” explained Denise Starling, executive director of BATMA and the coordinator of the study under the auspices of the CID. “The character of the corridor along that distance is very different.”
To address that change in character, the project was initially divided into five sections. The first segment is from Roswell Road down to Peachtree. The second goes from Peachtree to Pharr Road. That is followed by Pharr to Sidney Marcus Boulevard, Sidney Marcus to Lindbergh and Lindbergh to I-85.
“We have had six or seven stakeholder meetings,” Greene explained. “We are going to be delaying the fourth and fifth segments, around Armour Yard and the Lindbergh area, because we are going to coordinate that with the BeltLine study. So we are going to wait and synch up with that,” he added.
“Each of those segments really has a different character and different problems,” Starling has stated. She has emphasized that this is not a traffic study but is a regional impact study, “looking at every thing from land use to alternative forms of transportation. It is really looking at more comprehensive things.”
But, Starling also has added, “We are not going to get too deep into the land use part of it at this point, but we will come up with some recommendations that will address land use. The capital expenditures could include road widening, traffic signal retiming or a variety of things like that.”
She has said the recommendations will identify big ticket, small ticket, long-term and short-term projects.
Starling has emphasized that all of the community engagement is being put on the front end so that the public will drive the process.
She said the community will be targeted for input on each segment of the corridor at least twice during the process—once upfront and a second time as they get to the recommendations phase of the project.
Greene also explained that there is a Piedmont Corridor blog on the Buckhead CID web site. “Our public relations firm works with the engineering firm and picks out activity and puts it on the blog,” he explained.
“There are intersections up and down Piedmont that have gotten a lot of attention, before we came along and now they are getting attention on the blog,” Greene said.
“For instance, the intersection of Darlington and East Wesley, at the Baranco Mercedes. Its a five-way intersection. We currently are working with neighborhoods and folks around that intersection—looking at our counts and options to try and solve that because people can’t turn left into the Baranco dealership and they jam up things,” he stated. “The Gold Club intersection where Lindbergh splits is another. We are going to be looking at some areas there. We are going to be looking at commercial property connection scenarios off or Armour Yard….Look at ways to use right of ways along the railroad to try and create alternative car access back to Lenox—not through the neighborhoods.”
He said all of those things are going to be model tested.
“We have had five enlivened stakeholder meetings, and we had a good turnout,” Greene recounted. “Everything is on the table,” he emphasized. One of the guiding principles is protect the integrity of neighborhoods. Coming up with mobility solutions that are creative is in there too.”
Greene said “The redevelopment of Piedmont is going to be bigger as it goes along. This study is going to do the short term stuff (intersection improvements) and try to get short-term and long-term in balance, where we can start to pull down smaller projects in the next five years. Then you get your long-range things,” he concluded.