By John Schaffner
The message delivered clearly to representatives of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods on Feb. 12 was that there likely will not be any of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus money for Buckhead transportation projects — especially ramps to complete the missing interchange between Ga. 400 and I-85 north.
The largest crowd yet to attend a monthly Council of Neighborhoods meeting at Peachtree Presbyterian Church heard Marsay Simpson of Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ office, Andrew Billings representing Sen. Johnny Isakson, Anna Cherry, Rep. John Lewis’ transportation contact, and Buckhead state Rep. Ed Lindsey explain that only “shovel ready” projects will benefit from stimulus funding.
The Ga. 400-I-85 interchange is far from shovel ready. The Georgia Department of Transportation is holding a public information meeting Feb. 26 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. Philip, 2744 Peachtree Road, to lay out three design options for the project.
Most of the discussion centered on how to move the Ga. 400/I-85 ramp up the priority list so it can be completed in a prompt and responsible manner. The proposed ramps would provide an easy transition from southbound Ga. 400 to northbound I-85 and from southbound I-85 to northbound Ga. 400, completing a gap that was left in the road system.
The council discussion also dealt with protecting the integrity of the Glenridge-Martin Manor neighborhood, which is in the line of the three designs presently being considered for the transition ramps and all of which are unacceptable to the neighborhood.
At one point the neighborhood was condemned in preparation for the building of the Ga. 400 transition ramps, but the neighborhood has since been revitalized.
So far, 18 of the 42 neighborhoods in Buckhead — all of them members of the Council of Neighborhoods — have voted to support a council petition calling for the completion of the gap in the road system that causes traffic overload on the surface streets of Buckhead. The project now is scheduled to go out for bid in 2012, the council was told.
Billings told the group of some 30 neighborhood representatives that four-fifths of the transportation stimulus funds are going to repaving projects. “Stimulus funds probably are not the answer,” he said.
He discussed the possible use of Transportation Improvement Project (TIP) funds, which are allocated through the Atlanta Regional Commission. Simpson suggested looking into Community Development Block Grants. Cherry pointed out that most of the federal stimulus funds are going through the states.
Also on the program was Bill Bozarth, a Garden Hills resident who is with Common Cause. He addressed the use of government funds through the Fulton County Development Authority and tax allocation districts to provide incentives for private developers to build major projects, such as Cousins’ Properties Terminus project in Buckhead. Common Cause opposes the use of taxpayer funds to provide subsidies to developers.