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David Pendered

Atlanta’s $922 million fix-it list was $750 million when cited in 2008 report

By David Pendered

Atlanta’s next fix-it program is based on a report that reads like a “Guinness Book of World Records” of the city’s public amenities.

Almost 20 percent of sidewalks in Atlanta are in need of repair, according to a city report. Credit: PEDS

Almost 20 percent of sidewalks in Atlanta are in need of repair, according to a city report. Credit: PEDS

Ever wonder about sidewalks? Atlanta has 2,158 miles of them, and 395 miles are defective. Ever suspect that traffic flow could be improved if signals were fixed? The answer’s in the report. Recreation centers and playgrounds? They’re in there, too.

The report, issued in 2008, recommends the city borrow $250 million to start the repair program. Mayor Kasim Reed has landed on the same sum, and is considering a recommendation for Atlanta to borrow that amount of money this year.

The original report fell with a thud on the Atlanta City Council in December 2008.

No one had an appetite for taking on that sort of debt, nor was there interest in talking about the $750 million repair bill identified in the report. Reed now puts the figure closer to $922 million.

Back then, the country was learning it had entered a recession. The state labor commissioner reported the job loss in metro Atlanta was 67,800 – just in the month of November 2008. Certainly, there was no appetite for incurring debt in an election year, and 2009 was an election year – as is 2013.

Times are different.

But the needs are unchanged.

The cost of deferred maintenance was $750 million and should be addressed with an upkeep budget of $100 million a year, according to the report. The repair bill represents about two-thirds of the total book value of the city’s infrastructure, which the report pegged at $1.2 billion, in 2007 dollars. Replacement cost was valued at $3.4 billion.

The city has a maintenance program, but it is neither systematic nor comprehensive.

Atlanta’s capital budget, which ranges from $50 million to $60 million a year, pays for a “significant portion” for new projects – rather than for maintenance, according to the report.

As President Obama noted in his State of the Union speech, the country needs to adopt a “Fix it First” policy to make urgently needed repairs to infrastructure. The Atlanta report reaches a similar conclusion, based on repairs that are needed due to neglect:

  • “Like most governments around the country, the city has a significant backlog of capital infrastructure in need of replacement or major repair. This backlog is the result of decades-long practices of failing to catalogue, track and fund capital needs in a systemic and timely fashion. Consequently, the city operates with an infrastructure ‘deficit’ that increases operating costs and inhibits the city’s abilities to meet operational performance targets.”

The report is easy to read and clearly represents its viewpoints. The authors were David Edwards, senior policy advisor to then Mayor Shirley Franklin, and Duriya Farooqui, then the city’s director of performance management.

Farooqui now serves as Atlanta’s chief operating officer, and is the public point-person for the administration’s dealings with the proposed Falcons stadium.

The following chart, taken from the report, provides an easy-to-read synopsis of the various pieces of the city’s infrastructure, a ranking of the recommended improvement program, and cost to repair.

The definitions of the priorities are:

Atlanta's backlog1)   Critical

2)   Urgent

3)   Important


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.



  1. Sally Flocks March 4, 2013 5:39 pm

    When the City of Atlanta published the 2008 report , Public Works estimated that one fourth of all sidewalks in Atlanta needed to be repaired or replaced. At recent meetings, Public Works Commissioner Richard Mendoza said close to one-half of all sidewalks needed to be repaired or replaced. The longer Atlanta waits to repair neglected transportation infrastructure, the more it will cost.Report

    1. The Last Democrat in Georgia March 4, 2013 7:53 pm

      @Sally Flocks
       But replacing neglected transportation infrastructure like sidewalks would get in the way of replacing highly-serviceable two-decade-old stadiums for highly-profitable privately-owned money-making enterprises and their billionaire owners.Report

      1. Sally Flocks March 4, 2013 8:23 pm

        @The Last Democrat in Georgia  @Sally Flocks Repairing is a lot cheaper than replacing. The typical tripping hazard on a sidewalk is a 1/2 to 1″ height variation. Using grinders or horizontal saws to remove tripping hazards is the best way to deal with these.Report

        1. The Last Democrat in Georgia March 4, 2013 10:28 pm

          @Sally Flocks
           Ms. Flocks, what is your opinion on constructing/reconstructing sidewalks/walkways/pedustrian paths with blacktop surfaces (but concrete/cement curbs to hold them in place along streets) so that the surfaces on those paths are easier and much less-punishing on the joints of pedustrians and/or runners?
          Would it even be possible to pursue or enact a construction strategy of building more sidewalks with blacktop surfaces on a wide-scale?Report

        2. Sally Flocks March 5, 2013 9:35 am

          @The Last Democrat in Georgia Asphalt paths are ok, but concrete sidewalks hold up much longer. Also, ADA-compliant ramps are more difficult to build when using asphalt.
          The Connect Atlanta plan prioritizes construction of sidewalks in what it refers to as “growth areas” — which are likely to be areas with higher density development. In these, developers will cover much of the cost of sidewalk construction.
          The most important factor for influencing how much people will walk is having destinations worth walking to. In Paris, asphalt sidewalks are common.  I wouldn’t recommend them for new sidewalks here. The most significant costs for new sidewalks are right of way and labor costs, not the cost of concrete.Report

        3. TylerBlazer March 5, 2013 11:28 pm

          @The Last Democrat in Georgia  Asphalt is a lot more uncomfortable to walk/run on during the hotter times of the year than concrete becuase it absorbs heat rather than reflects heat- which contributes to a greatr urban heat island effect. Asphalt can also buckle and create potholes more easily than concrete due to smaller tolerances to termperature changes. Yes concrete buckles and shrinks/expands with the weather, but asphalt exaggerates those effects more so and requires a more periodic maintenance schedule. Higher upfront costs for concrete mean lower maintenance costs in the future, but lower installation costs for asphalt also mean higher maintenance costs- which brings back the problem of the city neglecting to address maintenance problems in the first place.Report

        4. The Last Democrat in Georgia March 6, 2013 2:28 am

           Ms. Flocks, Mr. Blazer, great points and thanks.
          The reason why I posed that question about building sidewalks with asphalt is because I know a lot of runners who jog in the roadway on the blacktop surface because they say that the harder surface of the concrete sidewalks is much tougher on their joints.
          I also posed that question because I’ve noticed that there are some sections of multi-use walk/run/bike paths that are built from concrete like traditional sidewalks while there are other sections that are built with asphalt.
          The most prominent example is the Silver Comet Trail in West Metro Atlanta and West Georgia which has sections that are built with concrete and other sections that are built with asphalt.
          Another example is the multi-use walk/run/bike path that lies beside Georgia Highway 141/Peachtree Parkway between Holcomb Bridge Road and Wellington Lake Drive in the Peachtree Corners area of Gwinnett County.
          The multi-use walk/run/bike path that lies beside Georgia Hwy. 141 is built mostly of asphalt blacktop, except for the ramps which are built of concrete as Ms. Flocks alluded to.Report

  2. Burroughston Broch March 4, 2013 8:09 pm

    The $922million cost was first aired in March 2012, a year ago. It’s probably above $1billion now.
    But, ignore the small stuff and concentrate on getting Arthur Blank a new stadium – the #1 priority now.Report


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