By David Pendered
A long-awaited effort to create iconic bridges across Atlanta’s Downtown Connector is culminating this summer and a final design is due before the year’s end.
The first two projects involve Peachtree Street, Atlanta’s signature boulevard. The working draft for the enhancements is evocative of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a world famous bridge that’s located in the host city of the 2000 Summer Olympic Games that came right after the Atlanta games.
If all goes as planned, the Peachtree Street bridges will be completed in March 2015. About that time, planning is to begin for three other bridge projects. The $5.35 million in construction funding for the Peachtree Street bridges is coming from a combination of business, state, and philanthropic sources, according to a recent presentation to the board of the state Department of Transportation.
The schedule provided at the GDOT board meeting calls for preliminary engineering to be complete in September, followed by final design in December. Construction is expected to start in the summer of 2014 and be complete in March 2015. The bridges are located just north of the Brookwood Interchange, over I-85, and in downtown Atlanta, just south of Georgia Tech.
Project work is to include landscaping, lighting and bridge enhancements along the Peachtree Street bridges. Once that work is complete, similar work is slated for bridges across the Downtown Connector that serve 10th Street, North Avenue, and Ralph McGill Boulevard/Courtland Street.
The bridge beautification projects represent the last word – at least for this generation – in the conversation about how to put a distinctive Atlanta imprint on the Downtown Connector. The highway links I-75 and I-85 as they pass through Atlanta’s urban core.
One of the now-discarded proposals called for the 17th Street bridge to serve as an iconic gateway for travelers entering Atlanta from the north. That didn’t happen, partly because money was tight even before the bridge opened in 2002. The current design and bright yellow paint were selected as an aesthetic and utilitarian compromise.
Some tried to brand the bridge as the Atlanta Banana, but the name didn’t stick.
Another proposal called for the complete elimination of bridges across the Downtown Connector. This concept called for building a top across the highway so that streets could be reconnected, green space could be established, and new homes and shops built.
Again, money being tight, the proposal never got further than a contemporary suggestion that metro Atlanta double-deck its major highways.
As it now stands, the bridge projects are part of a sweeping proposal to remake the façade of the Downtown Connector that’s being led by Midtown Alliance and Central Atlanta Progress.
This broader program acknowledged at the outset that while traffic congestion is a major issue, the program aims to, “improve the visual appearance, human experience, and economic potential of our urban Interstate.” To that end, the proposal envisions reclaiming the highway and its borders from a grim looking traffic artery into a leafy urban artery through the widespread use of plantings, lighting, public art and green space.
The improved appearance is intended for the benefit of the passengers of 120 million vehicles a year that traverse the highway. In addition, a fair number of the 120 million airline travelers destined for Atlanta likely get their first impression of Atlanta from the passenger seat of one of those vehicles, according to figures presented at the GDOT meeting.
Construction costs for the two Peachtree Street bridges are expected to total $5.35 million.
A portion of the amount has been provided by the Midtown Alliance; Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, which is affiliated with Central Atlanta Progress; and the Woodruff Foundation. The Midtown Alliance and ADID are using funds provided through an extra property tax paid by commercial landowners in their respective community improvement districts.
The remainder of the construction funding is public. The GDOT board voted in November to provide $1.7 million. The State Road and Tollway Authority, chaired by Gov. Nathan Deal, has agreed to provide funding through the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank. The GTIB has provided nearly $20 million to other community improvement districts, and cities, to help pay for projects ranging from the diverging diamond interchange in Dunwoody, to traffic light improvements in downtown Atlanta, to Peachtree Road improvements in Buckhead.