By David Pendered
A small but regionally significant new road that Cobb County officials opened in a ceremony Wednesday morning illustrates the type of congestion relief advocates expect of the proposed transportation sales tax.
The new road is called the Big Shanty Road extension and the problem it solves is all too familiar in metro Atlanta – the barrier of a big road. In this case, the big road is I-75 and its construction in the mid 1970s severed old Big Shanty Road.
The project list of the proposed 1 percent sales tax is peppered with projects like the Big Shanty extension. This is one reason advocates have had such a hard time explaining how the entire region will benefit from a collection of smaller projects.
“This project doesn’t benefit just Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw or Cobb County,” Tad Leithead, chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission, said in his remarks at the road’s ribbon cutting ceremony. “It will benefit the entire region, because the entire region will benefit from traffic relief.
“On July 31, we have an opportunity to provide money to highly motivated people [who could provide transportation solutions] that will have the same impact on the region that this project does,” Leithead said.
When I-75 was built across Cobb County, the closing of Big Shanty Road was an acceptable exchange for the access and prosperity the highway promised.
Twenty years later, the traffic was unbearable on two nearby roads that did cross I-75 – Chastain Road and Barrett Parkway. The solution was to reconnect Big Shanty Road, and the new $26 million, four-lane road stretches two miles and includes an adjacent multi-use trail that passes the new, 8,300-seat Kennesaw State University soccer stadium used by the Atlanta Beat professional women’s soccer team.
The theme of the ribbon cutting ceremony was the ’70s, the era when Big Shanty Road ended its former life. A dozen or so classic cars were rounded up to parade along the new road, just as they may have done on the original Big Shanty Road.
The Big Shanty Road extension will bisect a set of roads that form a parallelogram. U.S 41 and I-75/I-575 run basically north and south, and Chastain Road and Barrett Parkway run east and west.
The new Big Shanty Road extension cuts across the top right of this parallelogram. By tying Chastain Road into old Big Shanty, drivers will be able to continue east across I-575 to reach a third popular road that runs north and south – Bells Ferry Road.
The project was the brainchild of the Town Center Community Improvement District, which helped pay for the project. Other partners included Cobb County, state Department of Transportation, the federal stimulus package, and the State Road and Tollway Authoerity.
“Cooperation and partnership accomplished this,” said Jeff Lewis, the state DOT board member for the 11th District. “This is a great day for this area, for relieving congestion and connecting points.”
Daniel Papp, president of Kennesaw State University, predicted in his remarks that the new road will benefit students and the surrounding region.
Papp said the half-mile drive from campus to I-75 can take a half-hour because of gridlock on Chastain Road. The new road will provide an alternative route to the highway, and also to the new sports complex.
Gina Evans, SRTA’s executive director, noted that the new road provides easy access to a park and ride lot. SRTA provided $1.75 million to the project.
Voters in the transportation sales tax referendum could take a look at their communities and see value in their version of the Big Shanty Extension.
Here are two examples of locally significant projects:
- Rockdale County – Commerce Crossing, a new $25.9 million alignment and overpass atop I-20, from Old Salem Road to Old Covington Highway. According to the project description at www.transformmetroatlanta.com, the project will: “Construct a non‐access bridge over I‐20 to greatly improve connectivity the City of Conyers’ major commercial activity center with areas south of I‐20. In doing so, it help relieve the severe congestion at the SR 138 / SR 20 interchange with I‐20 (Exit 82). SR 138 / SR 20 is designated as a Regional Thoroughfare and a Regional Truck Route. The hotel and commercial activity center just north of I‐ 20, with major anchor stores such as Walmart, Home Depot and Kohls, is currently accessed via the intersection of SR 138 and Dogwood Drive, which is just 800 feet north of I‐20. The proximity of the Dogwood drive intersection to the I‐20 access ramps leads to severe congestion and the highest accident rate of any intersection in the county. The section of SR 138 in the vicinity of the interchange experiences an annual average of over 120 crashes (of which about 22 result in injuries) according to the Critical Analysis Reporting Environment (CARE) crash data system.”
- Fayette County – East Fayetteville Bypass, a $14 million segment that will provide new alignment and widening from Ga. 54 to Ga. 85. According to the project description at www.transformmetroatlanta.com, the project: “Is one of two segments, totaling 6.2 miles, which comprise the East Fayetteville Bypass. Segment 2, the northern section, is 2.0 miles long and is predominantly a corridor improvement project along existing Corinth Road. The project extends from the intersection of Corinth Road and SR 54 north to the intersection of Corinth Road and Ga. 85. Approximately 0.3 miles of the project is within Clayton County. Changes to Corinth Road include minor realignments, horizontal and vertical curve improvements, shoulder widening, drainage improvements, access management, and intersection optimization. The project scope includes acquisition of 120-foot wide right‐of‐way to accommodate potential future widening of the bypass. The purpose of the project is to improve north/south connectivity through Fayette County and provide network options around downtown Fayetteville. Doing so will ease existing congestion problems in Fayetteville and, subsequently, improve safety at several problematic intersections. The project will serve residents of Fayette, Clayton and Spalding Counties and is expected to carry heavy commuter traffic to and from the Atlanta area, including the airport. The project is in PLAN 2040, is a Regional Strategic Thoroughfare System (RSTS) future alignment, and is supported by the Southern Regional Accessibility Study and Fayette County’s 2003 and 2010 Comprehensive Transportation Plans. The project complements the East Fayetteville Bypass, Segment 1 (TIA‐FA‐003). Design work is already underway. ARC regional travel demand model calculations indicate that the completed project will reduce congestion along McDonough Road by 9 percent compared to future conditions without the project.”