By Adrianne Murchison, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga
A $50 million construction project that will redesign one of the most congested and dangerous gateways to north Fulton cities is generating both excitement and dread among business owners and residents in its path.
The Roswell Historic Gateway project, scheduled to begin construction in 2023, will eliminate the long-unpopular and dangerous reversible lanes that extend from near downtown Roswell to the Chattahoochee River that have frustrated tens of thousands of commuters each day from Fulton and Cobb counties — and points north.
The three-lane road features a middle lane that is reversed each day to create two lanes to carry rush-hour traffic north or south.
Many who live or work along the narrow Atlanta Street corridor acknowledge dangers on the reversible lane, but reconstruction and road widening will come at a cost for some who will lose property to the roadway. Some complained that they’re in limbo while waiting to receive an offer from the Georgia Department of Transportation to compensate them for their land.
GDOT District Communications Officer Tori Brown said in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that due to the design adjustments on the project, the organization doesn’t know when all of the offers will be made.
Roswell Director of Transportation Muhammad Rauf said the massive reconstruction of the road will decrease accidents. The goal is to keep motorists moving on Atlanta Street, also known as Ga. 9, instead of turning onto side streets for relief from backed up traffic. In 2019, the road averaged about 27,000 motorist each weekday, he said.
Roswell residents have discussed the project with city officials intermittently for 10 years. Early concepts for the project were developed by a consultant with the help of a citizen advisory committee from 2010 through 2012. The redesign of the roadway itself and its aesthetics were approved in 2012. Rauf said the plan for the road’s reconstruction — including how many lanes it is, how wide it is and where roundabouts are located — will not change at this point. However, the city wants residents to offer ideas for how the gateway will look.
The city is forming a new citizen advisory committee for suggestions on the type of trees that will be added to the corridor, preferred streetlamps and other visual enhancements. Residents and business owners are asked to apply by Sept. 30.
Roswell is a city of nearly 95,000 residents. Its downtown Canton Street neighborhood with restaurants and historic homes has been a model for other cities that want to create a distinct city center district. But just a few blocks away lies Atlanta Street or Ga. 9, a major commuter route that extends into North Fulton and beyond, and is used to either access Ga. 400 or as an alternative when that highway is gridlocked.
The stretch of Atlanta Street included in the project, from Sandy Springs at the Chattachoochee River up to Marietta Highway at Roswell Square, is lined with small businesses and intersections with residential streets, condos and apartments.
Rauf and Roswell officials have said the reversible lane corridor is dangerous and out-of-date. According to the city, there were 698 vehicle crashes on the street from 2015-18. One was a fatality, 23 were head-on collisions. The city reports that the street had a 247% higher crash rate than the statewide average from 2009 to 2007.
The Historic Gateway project will widen that stretch of road from 3 to 4 lanes and includes roundabouts and turn lanes. The roadwork is expected to cost about $50 million with 70% funded by GDOT, Rauf said.
GDOT’s costs include road construction, property acquisitions and easements. Ten of the 63 privately owned parcels needed for right of way acquisition have been purchased, a GDOT communications officer said.
Rauf said the city has committed to spend about $5 million for reconstruction and design costs. In 2010 Roswell spent $2.7 million on preliminary designs and the remaining $2.3 million will be spent on the final design. The project is far enough along in the process that any changes would alter the right-of-way acquisitions and the planned structure of the road, Rauf said.
Separately, the city has about $2.8 million of Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds to spend on the visual enhancements that the citizen advisory committee will weigh in on, the transportation director said.
In addition to design costs, Roswell plans to spend $1.1 million on construction within the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area for park land needed for project.
Rauf said with construction due to start in 2023, it would be completed in two to three years.
The gateway project widens Atlanta Street to four 11-foot-wide lanes with three roundabouts, more than 200 trees, many of which would create a tree canopy along the median, and a multi-use trail from Roswell Square along Atlanta Street to the river. Among other changes:
· Riverside Road and Azalea Drive will have road enhancements including roundabouts
· Access to Azalea from any direction from Roswell Road or Atlanta Street will require motorists to turn onto Riverside Road and proceed to a roundabout that would turn them around towards Azalea Drive. Drivers turning left onto Riverside Road from Atlanta Street will less of a wait at the traffic light signal than they do today.
· A second bridge over the Chattahoochee will be added beside the Roswell Road bridge to facilitate right turns onto Riverside Road and Azalea Drive.
· Rauf said a number of trees are being considered for a sound buffer for traffic and would be placed on acquired property at the edge of the Crest of Riverside apartment complex.
Business owners and residents
Business owners and residents along the corridor who expect to be impacted by the project said they frequently see accidents on Atlanta Street.
Janet Russell, a resident in the neighborhood for 47 years, said she served as citizen advisor for 15 months in the early 2010s. Russell is not in favor of the road redevelopment and thinks the vehicle accidents and corridor problems can be solved with a change in the timing of the traffic signals at the four-way intersection where Roswell and Sandy Springs meet.
GDOT’s plan for Atlanta Street includes a raised median that divides the road. Russell said the median will make access to businesses difficult for motorists. She described the median as a death knell for businesses.
The impact of the road changes may vary for businesses, depending on how they’re situated along the road. Eric Jarkins and his partners at Ironwood Design Firm lease the rustic red brick building where their business is located. Jarkins doesn’t expect the business to be impacted.
“We’re not an everyday type of business where we need a lot of visitors,” Jarkins said. “I’m excited about the (reconstruction of the street) because I think it’s a very difficult street to maneuver. We’re hoping it will be safer and a little more walkable.”
A newly realigned Atlanta Street will take some property from Mia Van Wagenen, who owns a marketing firm, where her sign that reads “MVO Marketing” stands.
“We are a professional services firm, so we hang our hats on the awareness of people just driving by and saying, ‘Oh that’s a marketing firm,’” Van Wagenen said. She has received an offer from GDOT for a section of her property and is trying to figure out where she can relocate her sign to keep it visible to passersby.
Jason Brown is a resident at River Mill Condominiums as well as a board member on the homeowner’s association. Brown said residents at the development received extensive information on the project in the early 2010s but there was a six-year gap from 2013-19 when residents didn’t hear from officials.
Residents met with a GDOT specialist last year to learn details on how much of their property would be taken for the project and expected an offer letter that never arrived, he said. And this year, before the pandemic, Brown said they were notified that the property would be resurveyed.
“At that point, I thought this project is probably dead in the water,” Brown said. “On behalf of River Mill, we’ve been frustrated by the lack of transparency with what’s going on.”
Rauf said the city and GDOT staff have had multiple meetings with residents in recent years to answer questions and address concerns.
“The fact of the matter is that city and GDOT staff has been having meetings, receiving and responding to emails and phone calls, responding to Open Record Requests over the years on an on-going basis with residents, business owners, etc.,” Rauf said in a email Friday.