By John Schaffner
editor@reporternewspapers.net

The $1 million Connect Atlanta comprehensive traffic plan is headed to the Atlanta City Council this month with the addition of a major tunnel connection between Peachtree Road and Tower Place to North Stratford Road and the North Buckhead neighborhood that never was presented in any public forums in Buckhead.

Gordon Certain, the president of the North Buckhead Civic Association, wants Buckhead residents to urge council members and Mayor Shirley Franklin to remove two new streets and the tunnel under the Buckhead Loop.

He also urges residents to demand that solving Buckhead’s east-west artery problem be added to the plan as a long-term requirement without major surface disruptions and that the completion of the Ga. 400/I-85 interchange be made a high priority of the plan.

The final Connect Atlanta Plan, which was not available online or for handouts at the last public forum in Buckhead on Sept. 8, omits those two projects. But it does “include some nasty surprises. They weren’t divulged at the final meeting — they weren’t even mentioned then,” Certain wrote in his association newsletter. “We didn’t learn about their existence until a few days later.”

He said a tunnel under the Buckhead Loop connecting Stratford Road to the North Stratford Road cul-de-sac “opens the possibility of traffic from urban Peachtree Road and Tower Place coming into residential North Buckhead.”

He said North Stratford could be closed off to keep traffic off Old Ivy Road, but that is not an option in the plan.

Certain said the tunnel and two new streets “should not be included in the plan until a full explanation is provided to the neighborhood and unless there is neighborhood approval.”

In regards to the Ga. 400/I-85 interchange completion, the Buckhead Coalition also has issued a proclamation reiterating its “top-priority support for this missing link” and urging it to be included in the Connect Atlanta Plan.

The Buckhead Coalition was a primary mover in winning approval in 1989 for the extension of Ga. 400 from I-285 to I-85. The original traffic engineering for that extension envisioned a north-south flyover at the southern end of Ga. 400.

From the start of Connect Atlanta meetings, Buckhead neighborhoods and the business community identified the incomplete interchange of Ga. 400 and I-85 as the No. 1 traffic problem for Buckhead because vehicles instead clog surface streets such as Piedmont and Roxboro roads.

But Buckhead residents were told at the meeting Sept. 8 that the Ga. 400/I-85 ramp connections had been eliminated because they would harm neighborhoods such as Lindridge-Martin Manor.

Certain mentioned at the meeting that buying out 25 homes affected by the completion of the interchange could benefit 30,000 households now suffering without the connection.

Certain said his organization plans to work with the city and state to ensure the interchange is completed before the toll collection on Ga. 400 ceases in 2011.

From the start of its discussions, the Connect Atlanta team highlighted that many Buckhead workers come from the north and west. The team evaluated how to address the traffic that saturates Roswell, West Paces Ferry and Powers Ferry roads and concluded that Buckhead residents would oppose expanding roads or building new ones to accommodate the rising traffic from the west and north.

The Connect Atlanta team dismissed a proposed subway plan to connect Buckhead directly to the Cumberland Mall area as too costly and proposed instead a looping surface light-rail route that would travel through northwest Atlanta and connect to the BeltLine at some point in west Midtown for further connection to Buckhead at the Lindbergh MARTA station.

Many Buckhead residents who attended the meeting Sept. 8 expressed concerns that the longer travel times involved and indirect route would discourage use of such a line and that the subway tunnel concept should be further explored.