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14th Street bridge: hard to build new roads in cities

By Maria Saporta

More on the 14th Street bridge. Little did I know when I wrote a short item about the reopening of the 14th Street bridge that it would generate such thoughtful commentary from friends and readers.

According to people familiar with the project, the $88.5 million project cost identified by the Georgia Department of Transportation did not reflect the true actual cost.

It cost the state up to $106 million to acquire the right of way for the project, according to Sally Flocks, founder of the PEDS advocacy group. Others estimated that it cost the city about $100 million in lost property tax revenue because of the number of businesses that were displaced by the land acquisition.

In all fairness, the project was much larger than just adding a turning lane and a median. The real reason for the entire project was to widen the Downtown Connector and to provide “slip lanes” to serve the exits at 10th and 17th streets and add HOV/bus lanes in the middle. The new bridge is considerably longer than the one that it replaced.

As for the ornamental fence panels with the Matisse cut-outs actually were made of aluminum to look like iron. Those panels and the light towers on the bridge, which do add to its aesthetics, cost less than 1 percent of the entire project cost.

The Midtown Alliance hired architect Peter Drey to help soften the standard, utilitarian GDOT overpass design. The reason a bicycle path was not incorporated as part of the bridge design was because the the city had failed to designate 14th Street as a bicycle route.

Mike Koblentz, chair of the Northwest Community Alliance, said the neighborhoods put a lot of work to reduce the number of lanes on the 14th Street bridge. The Home Park neighborhood, the Midtown Neighbors Association, Ansley Park, Selig Companies, the city of Atlanta and the Midtown Alliance all worked to influence the scope of the project.

“We uniformly felt that more lanes ‘might’ have been good for DOT, but not good for Midtown,” Koblentz wrote me in an email. Fortunately, GDOT did listen to the community and downscaled the project.

In my former blog post, I asked several questions. Was the bridge reconstruction worth $88.5 million? Was it worth the displacement of dozens of businesses? Or was it worth the decrease in revenues for the businesses that continued to operate during construction?

To those questions, Koblentz said he was not qualified to answer .

But another friend, who didn’t want to be identified, answered it this way: “HELL No. It’s an absurd, obscene, idiotic, mind-boggling,, preposterous waste of resources. A bad idea who’s time had come. A negation of all gum flapping about alternative this and green that. And the design fits in with nothing. Your dad would hate it for its silly skirt-on-a-pigness. There.”

The 14th Street bridge reconstruction is a wonderful case-in-point of why major road-based transportation projects do not belong in our urban areas.

Are you listening John Oxendine?

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


1 Comment

  1. Sally Flocks September 8, 2009 10:05 am

    The 14th Street bridge project also makes a strong case for ensuring that the next federal transportation bill sub-allocates more of the funding to metropolitan areas rather than state transportation departments. State transportation needs focus on accommodating long distance travel, which is not metro Atlanta’s primary need.Report


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