By John Schaffner

For more than two decades, I have been hearing and reading about three major projects in Sandy Springs. Now, construction is under way on one of them, another is likely to move forward in the near future and the third is at least in the serious discussion phase.

The three projects in order of actions of course are: (1) the widening of Johnson Ferry and Abernathy roads from the Cobb County side of the Chattahoochee River to Roswell Road and on to Ga. 400, (2) the widening of the Roswell Road bridge over I-285 (or, alternately, a tunnel under I-285), and (3) developing a real city center or downtown for Sandy Springs.

Johnson Ferry and Abernathy Park

The widening of Johnson Ferry and Abernathy roads is well under way, as is an added amenity which was not in the plans 20-plus years ago, the Abernathy Greenway Linear Park.

The Abernathy Greenway Linear Park may well become Sandy Springs’ signature parkland when completed. Crews soon will start cleaning and landscaping for the 25-acre park which will stretch along the north side of Abernathy Road from Brandon Mill Road almost all of the way to Roswell Road. But the major work on the park will come next year.

Before this year comes to a close, however, fencing and some walls will go up along the park as part of the $490,000 worth of Phase I work. That is planned to keep the site safe for plans to build next spring the first trail between Wright and Brandon Mill roads. The city received $700,000 to build that trail. The total cost for the park project is $15 million.

The park may well be completed before the road work is done along Johnson Ferry and Abernathy. That is not projected to be completed until December 2012.

For now, motorists, I am sure, simply consider the roadwork a big nuisance. But when it is completed those Cobb County commuters should find a smoother and safer ride through Sandy Springs.

Roswell Road bridge

Sandy Springs also has committed to the widening of the Roswell Road bridge over I-285 and anted up a $1.6 million federal earmark toward the projected $4 million cost of the project.

City officials say construction should begin next spring. It was supposed to start last month, but, alas, has been delayed.

The widening project aims to reduce traffic congestion in the city by increasing the bridge width from 64 to 86 feet. Another lane would be added to the now five-lane bridge. That new lane would be a dedicated left-turn lane, which would give both eastbound and westbound motorists their own lane for turning onto I-285 from Roswell Road. Drivers in both directions now must share a left-turn lane.

Other improvements include sidewalks on both sides of the bridge, wider ramps onto the Interstate and medians on Roswell Road before and after the bridge to prevent left turns onto Allen Road, Carpenter Drive and Northwood Drive.

Improvements to the bridge have been discussed since the 1990s. Around 2000, the state transportation department appointed a committee to work on widening the bridge.

But tired of waiting for state projects like revive285 to come to fruition, the city pressed forward with its own plan and paid firm Arcadis to design the project.

The bridge is probably the biggest bottleneck that we’ve got for traffic moving up and down Roswell Road and impinges on traffic movement all the way through the downtown area of Sandy Springs.

When the bridge work does finally begin, it is expected to take a year to complete. So, motorists can expect some more pain before the gain.

Developing a city center

Speaking of Sandy Springs’s downtown, it is good to see that the discussion of how to develop the city center for Sandy Springs actually is getting serious.

In the Sept. 24-Oct. 7 issue of the Sandy Springs Reporter, we had a page 1 story about the Main Street Alliance, a group of commercial and retail developers and property owners, making its presentation to Sandy Springs City Council with the group’s vision of the direction the downtown area should take.

It may still be talk at this point, but during the meeting in September, Mayor Eva Galambos declared the discussion to be “the beginning of a new world.”

The six-month-old Main Street Alliance is made up of representatives who own 50 parcels and 125 acres of land in Sandy Springs with close to 1.5 million square feet of commercial and retail space in the city’s “downtown district.” They have a real stake in how that area develops and presented a blueprint that represents a good starting point for further and deeper discussions.

There will always be the NIMBYs (not in my back yard folk) who just want things to stay the same—don’t rock the boat.

But building a more vibrant and commercially active and attractive downtown for Sandy Springs can possibly cause some of those commuters—who now simply drive through on their way home or to work—to stop and spend some money in Sandy Springs.

More money spent on shopping in Sandy Springs may help keep the property taxes from going up. That is a good thing.

In fact, the way I see it, all of these are long-awaited and much needed improvements for Sandy Springs. At last!