It’s better but not the best; 14th Street bridge reopens

By Maria Saporta

A ribbon-cutting ceremony to reopen the 14th Street this morning was moved to the nearby Courtyard by Marriott because of rain.

And even after the ribbon-cutting, the bridge would not be opened for a couple of more hours, a disappointment to several folks in cars who were waiting to be among the first to traverse the new bridge.

Speech after speech heralded this new east-west connection between Georgia Tech and Midtown. And yes, it’s an improvement over what used to be.

But was it worth $88.5 million to totally redo a bridge that added one turning lane and a median? Was it worth the displacement of dozens of businesses up and down 14th Street? And was it worth the fall off in revenue for the businesses that hung in there through the two-plus years of construction?

Those questions may never be fully answered because it’s not politically correct to look back at what could have been rather than what is.

I must admit that I’ve been pondering a comment that Sally Flocks, the founder of PEDs, made a few weeks ago. It will cost the city of Atlanta an estimated $79 million to repair all of its broken sidewalks. Compare that to $88.5 million to rebuild a bridge that adds one turning lane but doesn’t include a bicycle lane.

By the way, the Georgia Department of Transportation could decide to remove the median — a safe haven for pedestrians trying to cross 14th Street — if it decides it needs an extra turning lane.

The ceremony today was attended by bicyclists and pedsestrians who joined representatives from the GDOT, the Midtown Alliance, the city of Atlanta, the Federal Highway Administration, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and others who played a role in the project.

One who wasn’t recognized, but should have been, was Peter Drey, an architect and urban designer who is now with Cooper Carry. It was Drey who designed the bridge.

“It was the best we could do with what we had,” Drey said.

To his credit, Drey was able to slip in several design features that will greatly enhance the experience of traveling that bridge.

Most notably are the ornamental iron screens that border the sides of the bridge, protecting pedestrians from the Downtown Connector that flows underneath.

“We used a Matisse cut out pattern,” Drey said referring to the artist Henri Matisse. “You can do something special with these bridges. They don’t have to be dull, chain-link fences. Maybe this will start a trend.”

Drey also said the lights along the bridge will be able to shine different colors, which will add a flair to the crossover. Those artistic elements were included to help connect the bridge to the Woodruff Arts Center and the rest of Midtown’s cultural amenities. It also will complement the ornamental iron gates that are on the Piedmont entrances to Piedmont Park.

“We were trying to have a design that made crossing the expressway not feel like you were crossing the Grand Canyon,” Drey said.

In that goal, Drey has succeeded. As he said, this was the best he could do given the circumstances.

But I hope one day we will aim for the best and not just settle for the best we could do.

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.

4 replies
  1. adam says:

    it’s a f—ing joke.

    that’s Atlanta/Georgia for you…

    this city is going to hemorrhage younger people
    now that other cities have shown more vision.Report

  2. stj says:

    i was underwhelmed as well– i thought the whole point was to have williams street go underneath the bridge so that people going to the freeway wouldnt have to cross 14th.Report

  3. jeff says:

    $88.5 million and all we get are some matisse cut-outs?

    if the drivers need art, the high is just a few blocks away.

    what a boondoggle. teachers should think long and hard about this squandering of tax dollars on their furlough days.Report

  4. Sally Flocks says:

    The $88.5 million you cite as the cost of the project is a severe underestimate. GDOT paid $88.5 million to design and build the bridge. GDOT also paid $106 million to purchase the right of way, which is more than double the estimate it provided when it first submitted this project for inclusion in the regional Transportation Improvement Plan.

    The loss of prime Midtown real estate on 14th Street, Williams Street, and Spring Street created a severe hit to Atlanta’s current and future tax base. Requiring GDOT to pay for such long-term external costs might get it to think twice before implementing projects that are not in the best interest of cities where they are located.Report


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