The Buckhead Council of Neighbors is attempting to save Buckhead and North Midtown drivers a big headache this summer, when two major construction projects will be underway at the same time and potentially cause a traffic “nightmare.” The council met with members of GDOT, as well as Atlanta Commissioner of Public Works Richard Mendoza at their monthly meeting on Thursday night in an attempt to get clarity on why it seems the scheduling on the projects can’t be changed.
The two projects in conflict are the parking lot replacement at the Amtrak station in North Midtown, which will require the closure of Deering Road where it connects to Peachtree adjacent to the train station (expected to begin after July 4), and the extensive Northside Drive improvements/water main installation (expected at the end of July/early August).
Leaders of two Buckhead neighborhood associations met with City of Atlanta officials six months ago to come up with a solution to deal with rerouting around the Amtrak station. The solution ultimately involved selecting a detour route that includes Peachtree Street, Collier Road, Northside Drive, 17th Street, and West Peachtree Street/Spring Street.
The problem lies in the fact that the Northside Drive improvements, including some at the Collier Road intersection, are scheduled to be happening at the same time. Members of the BCN are concerned that traffic will be clogged all the way back to the neighborhoods and some drivers will attempt to snake through them to avoid the construction.
The BCN had been attempting to persuade GDOT to reschedule the Amtrak project by 6 - 9 months to let construction progress throughout the Collier Road and Northside intersection to allow the detour route to operate properly. At Thursday’s meeting, GDOT officials and Mendoza essentially said that it can’t be done. Both projects would proceed, they said, and there would be no schedule modifications.
The issue, as it most often is, is funding.
Rachel Brown, Metro Atlanta District Engineer with GDOT said that the money recently acquired for both projects had to be authorized prior to June 30 and then used within a month of authorization.
“We realize this impacts your life. It impacts your community and the way you live,” Brown said. “We want to get it done as fast as we can and get out of your life.”
Additionally, GDOT officials said the Amtrak construction involves the safety issue of concrete falling onto the track from a bridge there, which has to be addressed quickly.
According to Loring Heights Neighborhood Association President Ron Grunwald, using 17th Street as part of the detour route presents its own set of problems.
“No one uses 17th Street because the lights are out of whack. You are hitting red light after red light,” he said. “People are not going to take that route and will rather try to make their way through the different neighborhoods. Its gonna be a nightmare for 6 to 12 months at least.”
Grunwald, as well as many of the other neighborhood reps were obviously frustrated.
“There are very few east to west connections in south Buckhead and north midtown. Two of them are going to basically be under construction and one has lights that are ill-timed,” Grunwald said.
“We are working very closely with GDOT to minimize as much as possible disruption to the neighborhoods,” Mendoza said in an attempt to ease tensions in the meeting room. “We have our best minds around this.”
Mendoza also said he thinks fixing the signals on 17th Street is a valid idea and that this issue would be taken care of to help ease problems.
“I am committing to you here tonight to have our technicians maintain the optimum timing sequences for the signals around the detour manually — meaning we will go back and check the timing biweekly and make temporary adjustments.”
Additional signage will also be installed, he said, to help ensure drivers don’t use the neighborhoods to avoid traffic. However, Mendoza said he realized the signs offer no guarantees against seasoned Buckhead drivers.
GDOT officials said that one lane of traffic in both directions will be open at all times on Northside Drive except for two weekends towards the end of the project, at which time Deering Road is expected to be reopened. Work on the Northside Drive project will be done 9 a.m. -5 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. -8 p.m. on weekends at the request of the neighborhoods.
Grunwald said that all parties involved will hold another meeting next Wednesday at the Masonic Temple to discuss the issue further. Expect more information in regards to the next meeting soon on Buckhead Patch.