Now that the city has a design for turning the two-lane section of Hammond Drive in Sandy Springs into a complex, four-lane version, the next question is whether residents have the appetite to pay for it.
Some nearby residents wonder what the city will do with the property purchased for the road if it never gets enough funding to build the road, which is projected to cost as much as $60 million. Though city officials have said they expect more funding for the project in the next transportation special local option sales tax (TSPLOST) referendum, it won’t be enough to cover all construction costs. And voters could reject a five-year extension of the tax.
“They are going two houses deep, so you know, you’ve got a fair amount of property,” said Bob Lepping, a former president of the Glenridge Hammond Neighborhood Association. He hopes it doesn’t become a zoning or building issue if widening plans fall through.
“We still want to keep this neighborhood as it is, keep the integrity, keep the character of it,” he said. “The last thing we need is high rise, condos and things like that. So I’m hoping the city continues through the project.”
The project envisions widening Hammond from Barfield Road to Roswell Road and includes roundabouts and pedestrian and bike paths. It has been controversial since the idea was first proposed. The city bought 26 properties for right of way needs. The city paid to tear down 11 of the houses that were considered unfit for habitation.
Ben Hendry, an educator and a Glenridge Hammond Neighborhood Association board member, isn’t sure if a second TSPLOST will pass. The last one passed in November 2016 with 52.7% of the vote, according to Fulton County election records.
Hendry he said would help is knowing how much each person could expect to pay in the transportation sales tax.
“And it’d be it’d be nice if they could have Mount Vernon Highway and Johnson Ferry underway so we can get an idea of what the situation will be like when Hammond has also changed which will require more construction,” Hendry said.
When voters approved the first TSPLOST five years ago, it only included enough money for design and the land purchases, with nothing for the construction of what essentially will be a completely new road. And at its Jan. 29 meeting, City Council transferred $1.9 million of the $16 million budgeted from the Hammond Drive project to the Johnson Ferry Road at Mount Vernon Highway project near City Springs. Both projects were included in the voter approved TSPLOST.
Mayor Rusty Paul said when the City Council was considering the fund transfer that spending TSPLOST money on buying up right of way reserved the option of continuing the project.
Fulton County’ mayors are meeting regularly with the Fulton County Board of Commissioners to plan a proposed “TSPLOST 2” in which the city expects to include some funding for the Hammond Drive project. The city expects total revenue from the TSPLOST set to expire in April 2022 to reach $92.5 million, less than the more optimistic $123.8 million suggested when it was first proposed.
Projects proposed for the county-wide TSPLOST 2 will be developed by individual cities by May, with an intergovernmental agreement between them and Fulton County due in August. That deadline must be met to enable getting the TPSLOST referendum on the November general election ballot.
Lepping thinks how city residents receive the proposal to extend the transportation sales tax will be a mixed bag.
“Those that are opposing it, today will still feel the same way,” he said. “I don’t think you’ll ever change that mindset.”
But he thinks enough city voters will vote for it so it can pass.
Rebekah Barr, the association’s president, said she just took over the position in January and doesn’t know the neighborhood’s mood yet. She said she hasn’t been involved in the Hammond Drive project discussion to make a comment.
Even with a second TSPLOST, the $60 million price tag for construction that Public Works Director said it could reach is a funding problem that a second TSPLOST alone could not solve. Paul said the city won’t be able to build Hammond with just TSPLOST and may need to use those revenues from TSPLOST 2 to match other sources of funding.
Lepping hopes the Hammond Drive project will continue.
“It will ease some of the congestion that we experience,” he said.
Residents in the neighborhoods along Hammond aren’t convinced widening the road will reduce cut-through traffic. But he thinks any improvements will make things better.
Hendry agrees Hammond Drive needs improvements.
“I don’t know anyone who’s anyone who says Hammond shouldn’t be changed it’s all a question of to what degree. Some people say just add sidewalks but some people say the new plan is perfect,” he said.
Realigning the intersection of Boylston Drive and Hammond will help traffic, he said.
The change in elevation on Hammond is approximately 80 feet, a big change in the terrain that requires a lot of civil engineering and changes to the landscape including trees to remove, Hendry said.
He also noted the Georgia Department of Transportation’s redesign of the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange, including its connections to Hammond Drive — a project that is on track to wrap up at year’s end.
“And I’m wondering how the new 285 interchange will take pressure off of Hammond, and as well the new improvements to Johnson Ferry and Mount Vernon Highway,” he said.
Changing plans on I-285 and Ga. 400 project make it hard to tell whether they will improve traffic and keep cut-through traffic out of their neighborhood, Lepping said.
What continuing effects the pandemic might have on traffic also remain uncertain. He said construction on the Hammond Drive project will take five to eight years.
“I just don’t have a crystal ball that would suggest that in one way or the other it’s going to be more or less traffic,” he said. “I would like to think that we’ve learned and that companies can go ahead and allow their workers to work remotely from time to time.”
That might have an impact on traffic, but Hammond Drive remains a major thoroughfare for connectivity to the Perimeter Center and to Cobb County, Lepping said.