One of Atlanta’s most notorious north-to-south corridors gets a bad rap, traffic officials say.
The people who drive the road every day see it a little differently. Turning left onto Roswell Road requires patience. Sidewalks fade in and out of view. Finding a driveway into a business can be tricky. Pedestrians often cross the road wherever they please. When school buses drop students off at apartments along Roswell, the road becomes a parking lot.
Traffic officials with the city of Sandy Springs and the Georgia Department of Transportation say traffic flow along Roswell Road in Fulton County has improved in the last few years. State Route 9, as the road is known to state offiicials, begins in Midtown and ends in Dahlonega.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has spent $191 million over the last 10 years making improvements on the Fulton County portion of the road, most of it coming from $154 million in federal money, according to the agency.
“GDOT has done a lot on State Route 9 (Roswell Road),” GDOT spokesman Mark McKinnon said. “In the last couple of years, we have retimed the traffic signals, installed many vehicle-pedestrian detectors, and upgraded all the signal heads.”
Roswell Road has existed in one form or another since the early 1800s. Its importance grew in the 20th century, as automobiles became more common. Before it was notorious for suburban gridlock, Roswell was a notorious bootlegging route, according to Clarke Otten of the Sandy Springs Historic Preservation. In the 1950s, Roswell Road expanded with the growth of Atlanta’s bedroom communities.
“The real problem lies in the explosive growth that this area has experienced during the last two decades,” McKinnon said. “There are simply too many cars for the roadway, and, if you look at Roswell Road, it is virtually impossible to widen.”
Residents in Buckhead and Sandy Springs want more improvements. North Buckhead Civic Association President Gordon Certain said the best the community can hope for is better signals and limiting growth along the corridor.
“The traffic control technology we have is basically 1940s,” Certain said. “It’s just dumb traffic signals with a little bit of smart timing, so traffic signals are completely unaware of the traffic loads.”
The cities of Sandy Springs and Atlanta have limited options when it comes to dealing with the state-owned road.
Sandy Springs Director of Traffic and Transportation Brad Edwards said the city does all it can.
“What do they think the fix is? With the section that we have, do they think the fix is going to six lanes going all the way down and taking businesses out? I wish it were that easy,” Edwards said.
GDOT says the improvements on Roswell have decreased delays by 25 percent during morning and evening commutes.
McKinnon said more fixes are on the way that will improve signal timing in Atlanta and Sandy Springs.
Sandy Springs monitors congestion in its multimillion dollar traffic management center. Traffic Engineer Bill Andrews said people can get up and down Roswell “in any reasonable amount of time” when routes like nearby Ga. 400 can grind to a halt.
“The way people use it, Roswell Road is not a bad corridor,” Andrews said. “It moves better than you’d probably expect.”
Sandy Springs’ city officials are trying to develop their community’s city center, a project that will cost more than $100 million over 10 years. A group of business owners called the Main Street Alliance identified Roswell Road as one of the biggest hindrances to downtown development in a 2011 report to the city. Sandy Springs adopted its downtown redevelopment plan in December. The plan tackles the Roswell Road problem by building sidewalks, updating zoning and improving east-to-west connections using the roads controlled by the city.
Cheri Morris, president of Morris & Fellows redevelopment firm, said Roswell Road’s lack of sidewalks, irregular access points and gridlock give business owners little incentive to invest in the appearance of their buildings.
“The biggest No. 1 and almost only problem in Sandy Springs is the physical and aesthetic dysfunction of Roswell Road, and thus the No. 1 recommendation of the Main Street Alliance to the city was to correct Roswell Road aesthetically and functionally, at which point the shopping centers can redevelop and re-merchandise to a much more desirable mix of shops and restaurants,” Morris said.
But what options are there?
Traffic management may be the only real option without expanding the road. No one thinks expansion is a possibility at this point.
District 8 Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean said the city of Atlanta in general needs better traffic signal coordination.
“What I’d like to see is synchronized lighting on all of our major routes, so traffic can be controlled during peak hours,” Adrean said.
Certain said signal timing and limiting growth are the best options.
“Unless people want to buy out a whole bunch of businesses along Roswell Road, what we’ve got is what we’re going to have,” Certain said.