The city of Dunwoody has begun designing a new and improved Chamblee-Dunwoody Road Bridge over I-285 in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Transportation’s plan to add toll lanes along the highway in coming years. But it remains to be seen how the design will match two other bridges — and who will pay for which parts of the bridge.
The City Council discussed the plans in a Jan. 25 meeting for the future of a bridge that acts as a southern gateway into the city’s Georgetown neighborhood. The conversation focused on the bridge’s design and how much the enhancements would cost the city.
GDOT’s toll lane project, which is intended to help with traffic congestion, would widen highways, adding toll lanes along the top end of I-285 and on Ga. 400 between Sandy Springs and Alpharetta. The expansion has been immensely controversial due to the possible demolition of residential properties and the addition of highway entrances onto local streets.
While the toll project is expected to take years – some segments are projected to be finished as late as 2032 – Public Works Director Michael Smith said GDOT expects a plan for bridge enhancements much sooner.
“It’s a little bit of a moving deadline,” Smith said. “They were going to advance [the bridge project] ahead of the managed lanes. They’re still hoping to do that, but it’s a possibility it’s going to get put back into the overall bigger project. But as long as they’re continuing to try and advance this one forward, they really want to hear back from us in the next couple of months.”
The city has partnered with the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts (PCIDs), and both have contracted with the consulting firm Kimley-Horn to help come up with bridge design features. The city will be responsible for enhancements to the Chamblee-Dunwoody bridge, while the PCIDs will be responsible for enhancements to two other bridges over I-285 on Perimeter Center Parkway and Ashford-Dunwoody Road.
“The core of our task is to come up with a series of design features that can not only be applied to Chamblee-Dunwoody Road bridge, but also to each of the other bridges within the Perimeter Community Improvement District[s],” said Eric Bosman, vice president at Kimley-Horn.
Kimley-Horn showed examples of enhancements that could be added to the Chamblee-Dunwoody bridge, such as barriers, retaining walls, lighting structures and landscaping.
Several councilmembers had suggestions for aesthetics to be incorporated into the bridge’s design. Councilmember Tom Lambert mentioned that enhancing the bridge, which serves as an entryway into the community, could work in conjunction with Dunwoody’s gateway project.
“These bridges just happen to be gateways into the city as well,” Lambert said. “It dovetails nicely with that program we’re looking to do. I would hope there would be some sort of coordination with the gateway project.”
Lambert said he liked the idea of including natural landscaping in the design, as well as public art, a sentiment echoed by Councilmember Joe Seconder. A new city Art Commission will hold its first meeting Jan. 28.
“I pose this question to our newly engaged public arts commission,” Seconder said. “Can we … ask them to provide their feedback on design preferences?”
Bosman said Kimley-Horn could come back to a February council meeting with concepts for the council to review.
Much of the conversation about bridge enhancements centered around budget constraints. While GDOT would cover the cost of rebuilding the Chamblee-Dunwoody bridge and the city is responsible for enhancements, there was some discussion over what was considered an enhancement and what was considered essential.
Councilmember Stacey Harris asked if GDOT would cover a buffer between a multi use path and traffic lanes.
“We’ve talked about a landscape buffer,” said Public Works Director Michael Smith. “It’s still up in the air, the expectation of who pays for that.”
Mayor Lynn Deutsch expressed concern the PCIDs might have more resources available than the city, considering the Chamblee-Dunwoody bridge will be rebuilt while the two other bridges will only be refurbished.
“I’m concerned about budget,” Deutsch said. “Our budget versus [the PCIDs] budget, because we may have some expenses [the PCIDs] is not going to have.”
The PCIDs are two jointly operated groups of commercial property owners in Perimeter Center who tax themselves to pay for transportation, public safety and beautification projects. Ann Hanlon, executive director of the PCIDs, said their board has not yet spoken about the design or budget for their bridges.
Deustch went on to say it would be difficult for the council to provide more guidance on the budget for the bridge because “we have no idea what money buys in this case.” She asked if it would be possible for Kimley-Horn to come back with concepts the council could visualize to decide what works both aesthetically and budget-wise.
“Something along those lines might work best for us,” Deustch said. “Simultaneously working with the PCID[s] so we can make sure we’re kind of on the same page.” She said that she did not want the designs to be so different that they look “like you’ve transported yourself to a totally different place.”