Nighttime means pitch darkness in the busy intersection of Buford Highway and Sidney Marcus Boulevard, on the Buckhead-Brookhaven border, where the streetlights haven’t worked – not for a month, not for a year, but for a half-decade.
The exact reasons are unclear, but the city of Atlanta and the Georgia Department of Transportation appear to have long been in an internal blame game, internal city emails show. A city spokesperson said the lights went out during construction of the flyover ramp connecting I-85 southbound to Ga. 400 northbound – which opened on April 2, 2014.
Floyd Taylor, a resident of Buckhead’s Peachtree Hills, has long complained to the city about the five-years-and-counting outage, saying it endangers pedestrians and gives cover to criminals. He has a shorter summation of the city and GDOT’s inaction.
“They’re acting like children,” he said.
GDOT and the city say a fix in the works, but neither would elaborate on details or provide a timeline, and Taylor said he’s heard such promises before. He believes from various City Hall conversations that all that needs to be done is fixing two fuse or switch boxes.
Atlanta City Councilmember Howard Shook says he recalls Taylor’s years of complaints about the outage. In response to Reporter questions, Shook said he spoke to city Public Works Commissioner James Jackson Jr. about it.
“He did say that a dialogue has been initiated between the city, Georgia Power and GDOT to determine where each entity’s responsibility begins and ends, which will mean a lot of poring over various MOUs [legal memorandums of understanding,” Shook said in an email. “While it may take some time for these three large bureaucracies to resolve all of this, it seems that concrete steps are at least underway.”
And that’s not the only mysterious safety situation in the intersection. There are no crosswalks or pedestrian signals, unlike many similar intersections around the city, but it appears there once were. A street sign at the dead-end of a sidewalk on Sidney Marcus directs pedestrians to use a crosswalk that does not exist, and a wheelchair ramp empties into the midst of a travel lane well before a traffic signal. The city did not respond to questions about what happened to pedestrian furnishings there.
The intersection is a busy one, feeding directly into the Buford-Spring Connector and very close to a Ga. 400 interchange. About 1,000 feet to the north, Buford Highway intersects with Lenox Road near its I-85 interchange. The outage extends along Sidney Marcus to Ga. 400 and along Buford Highway to Lenox Road.
City and police officials in neighboring Brookhaven said they have not noticed the outage and have not lodged any complaints about it.
Taylor is known as a gadfly on pedestrian safety and streetlight issues at Atlanta City Hall, regularly complaining about the city’s slow repair times. He said he has met with various officials at City Hall three times over the years about the Sidney Marcus/Buford Highway lights, to no avail. His concern was renewed, he said, by the November death of a friend who was killed while walking in the area of the Lenox/I-85 interchange.
Taylor provided various year-old emails from city officials about the issue, which include some contradictory explanations. They outline three apparently separate problems: pedestrian lights, apparently in the Lenox intersection area; “decorative lights” along the sidewalk; and the main “cobra” style streetlights.
The pedestrian lights had not been “energized” by GDOT, the city said, but it appears that issue has been resolved. As for the decorative lights, the city email – which had been sent to GDOT — said that agency had failed to keep them burning for 30 days so that the city could perform an inspection.
Then there are the main streetlights, which are the ones said to have been shut down for the flyover ramp work and never turned on again. Santana Herrera, the city’s manager of signals and streetlight operations, wrote to Taylor that GDOT damaged “service points” on the lights during construction and never repaired them. Georgia Power said fixing them would cost $267,000, an amount beyond the city’s current budget, Herrera wrote. He said the city and Georgia Power were working on a bevy of streetlights damaged by vandalism, accident and wire theft along I-75, I-85 and I-20 and trying to prioritize projects within the budget.
“I apologize that the lights on Buford Hwy has [sic] not be given the expected priority so far,” Herrera wrote in the March 8, 2018 email. “I will follow up with this with our manager to see if we can give attention to this [sic] repairs once and for all. I will return your call but I wanted to give you my word that this street light issue has not been out of our mind.”
The repairs have yet to be made, and recent responses from the city and GDOT to Reporter questions were slim on details, while Georgia Power did not respond at all.
“A revised quote is needed, as additional damages have occurred due to wire theft and vandalism,” a city spokesperson said of the repair work. “Once a revised quote is received, [the Department of Public Works] will issue a purchase order so that Georgia Power can make necessary repairs.”
“I’m not sure about what led to the service points being disabled,” said GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale, “but I do know that we are working with Georgia Power and COA [the city of Atlanta] to get them working and handed over to COA.”