In many ways, the 40-year wait to improve one of Sandy Springs’ major east-west corridors mirrored the story of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s political career.
The road and Isakson’s political fortunes faced the same adversary: politics.
Isakson failed at running for higher office after serving in the state House from 1977 to 1990, losing a bid for governor in 1990 and later, a bid for U.S. Senate in 1996. The widening of Johnson Ferry and Abernathy Roads was on the minds of voters in 1977, but politics delayed the project for decades.
“The politics were so bad between Cobb and Fulton County, about 20 years ago that somebody shot out the light with an elephant gun on the Cobb County side of Johnson Ferry Road Bridge, because of the tension between the two counties,” Isakson said.
On April 29, Isakson, who became a U.S. Senator in 2005, stood in front of the completed road and said it was worth the wait. It’ll be a smoother ride from here on out, he told the crowd gathered at an event to mark the project’s end.
The slow drizzle of rain wasn’t bothering him. Snow wouldn’t have even bothered him, he said. The road was finished. He wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to cut the ribbon and close that chapter.
“I look forward to spending the rest of my life riding on Johnson Ferry and Abernathy, not being parked on Johnson Ferry and Abernathy,” Isakson said.
The project cost $25.7 million, and Isakson, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1999 before becoming a U.S. Senator, helped find the money to pay for it. Contractors expanded Abernathy Road from Johnson Ferry to Roswell Road, widening the east to west corridor from two lanes to four. The project included a median, bike lanes and sidewalks, too.
The project also expanded Johnson Ferry from Columns Drive, just across the river, to Abernathy Road. Contractors widened Columns to Riverside Drive to six lanes and Riverside to Abernathy to four lanes. That portion of the project also has a median, sidewalks and bike lanes.
Eventually the city of Sandy Springs will complete the Abernathy Greenway Linear Park project along the intersection of Abernathy and Brandon Mill Road, a projected noted in Isakson’s “thank you” speech. Residents’ complaints about portions of the road project helped to delay the park’s opening, pushing it back to early 2014.
Isakson said the residents driving the road four decades ago were furious when the road was two lanes. He remembered it well. After the press conference, one of the reporters gathered around the senator asked if there would be a traffic study that would measure whether the expansion reduced gridlock.
Isakson looked at the reporter as if he’d just asked whether the rain falling from the sky would make the ground wet.
“You must’ve never been out here before,” Isakson said to the reporter. “You don’t have to study it.”