By John Schaffner
johnschaffner@reporternewspapers.net

Buckhead businesses, residents and visitors are getting ready for two years of discomfort with work on Phase II of the Peachtree Boulevard streetscape project, which stretches from the MARTA rail station on Peachtree to Roxboro Road.

Phase II of the three-phase construction project, which was unveiled in 2000 by the then newly created Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID), actually began in March, according to Brian McHugh of the CID staff.

When completed, Phase II will mirror work on Phase I, which ran from Maple Drive to the Buckhead MARTA station and was completed in the fall of 2007.

Major improvements and amenities associated with both phases include wider sidewalks with a buffer between the sidewalk and the street; a widened street with bike lanes in both directions; raised, landscaped medians and strategically placed turn lanes; utilities placed underground to eliminate visual clutter; shade trees and additional benches; and street lamps and traffic signals.

McHugh said Atlanta Gas Light is relocating utilities along Peachtree from the Ritz Carlton hotel to Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant. He said when the work is completed, Atlanta Gas Light will begin utilities work in front of Phipps Plaza. McHugh said the remainder of the summer will be spent widening the road and sidewalks.

“Work will be continuing on the north side of Peachtree Road until Thanksgiving. During the holiday shopping season, some sidewalk work may continue, but there will be no lane closures to disrupt holiday shopping traffic around the malls,” McHugh said.

McHugh explained that Phase II construction would be handled differently than the work was done on Phase I. Instead of working all aspects of the work in small segments on both sides of the road, construction will first be done on the north side of Peachtree from the MARTA station to Roxboro Road before work starts on the south side of Peachtree.

“We had three high-rises under construction along the Phase I segment of Peachtree, which determined how the road and streetscape work would be done,” McHugh said. “We don’t have that situation now in the Phase II area.”

Although the Peachtree Road project will span just 1.5 miles through the heart of Buckhead, the $52 million roadway improvements and streetscape makeover is designed to enhance the pedestrian experience, manage traffic flow and increase safety for pedestrians and vehicles.

The project, which is being coordinated by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is being funded with $40 million in federal money and $12 million from the CID, which includes $6 million in donated right of way from properties along Peachtree Road.

The CID is a district in which the commercial property owners choose to tax themselves an additional 3 mils to pay for improvements within the district. The Peachtree Boulevard project has been the CID’s signature project.

Construction of Phase II, which is twice as long as the completed Phase I, is expected to take two years to complete, so it is expected to interrupt two holiday shopping seasons, McHugh explained. “However, if it can be completed ahead of schedule, it might just involve one holiday shopping period.”

During a presenta.tion to the Buckhead Business Association last December, CID Executive Director Jim Durrett said, “What we are doing here in Buckhead is trying to provide a place that works for people, not just for cars… but it works better for cars, too.”

The Peachtree Boulevard project addresses traffic congestion and outdated design of the state arterial road, which “is really the only way we have to get from east to west through the Buckhead district,” Durrett said. “It was not functioning as a transportation facility, which is what it was built to do. It was unfriendly to pedestrians.”

Durrett has said that the project improves traffic control, left-turn access management, re-engineers intersections, lighting, transit access and creates sidewalks, bike lanes and larger green spaces.

“The benefits are that we are creating transportation alternatives,” Durrett said in December. “There is a lot of energy on the street these days.”

Bids for the second phase of construction were opened Dec. 11. The low bidder was the same contractor that did the first phase of the project and has been working on the major streetscape project in Midtown between the two Buckhead phases, McHugh said.

Mc Hugh said Phase III, which will run from Maple Drive to Shadowlawn Avenue is being reviewed by the state. That $2.5 million likely will be built in two or three years. It will differ from the first two phases because of the nature of development along that stretch of Peachtree and will not have bike lanes.

Further south along Peachtree, McHugh said the CID is considering streetscape work in the area of the former Buckhead Village which would complement the work planned as part of The Streets of Buckhead mixed-use development as well as plans for further development of Charles Loudermilk Park at the intersection of Roswell and Peachtree roads.

He said what is presently being looked at for a first phase is to make a northern gateway to that area, from the newly renovated Buckhead Theatre to Fulton Street and East Paces Ferry Road. He did not have a timeframe for work to be started in that area of Peachtree Road.