By Maggie Lee
A vote by Atlanta City Council on Monday made it official: some of the road, bridge and other public works promised to voters via special programs in 2015 and 2016 will not happen any time soon.
For example, the major remodel of DeKalb Avenue is turning into more of a renovation. The city promised the reversible lane would go, the crooked and raggedy thoroughfare would get resurfaced. The city would add bike lanes in some way, proper sidewalks, better crossings.
A car-centric city was going to try something new. Resurfacing at least was supposed to have been done by about now.
But now that’s trimmed back: the reversible lane will still disappear, to be replaced with a turn lane. And it’ll be resurfaced. The timeframe isn’t settled at the moment.
But the other things, the so-called “complete street” upgrades — bike space, ADA compliance, nice sidewalks — won’t happen.
Those non-car upgrades are now listed as “design only:” the city will figure out how these things could be built, but it won’t do the building at this time.
It’s a somewhat similar story on the Cascade corridor. For the western end of the road, there’s funding for works like resurfacing, restriping, and pedestrian safety improvements. Points further east — “phase II” — are listed as “design only.” There’s not money now to do the actual work.
Those and hundreds of other large and small projects were part of “Renew Atlanta” and “TSPLOST,” both of which saw the city sell bonds to start to work on a much larger backlog of works on roads, bridges, sidewalks, buildings and other public infrastructure.
Back in April 2018 at a town hall meeting about DeKalb Avenue, a set of city slides about the project acknowledged some potential problems with the big project: getting rights-of-way, dealing with utilities above and below ground, squeezing in a corridor where MARTA and freight train have rights too.
But now, new management at Atlanta City Hall is saying those kinds of problems — and others — have occurred often in Renew and TSPLOST projects.
Often enough that promised projects amount to $940 million, but there’s only going to be a total $530 million to spend. Other problems that city management have since mentioned include higher construction costs, lower sales tax revenue and changes to project work orders. Audits have also mentioned a lack of project controls, weak contracting practices and spending on projects not on the original list, like a $24-million-plus pedestrian bridge over Northside Drive.
For the last few months, city COO Joshua Williams and Renew/TSPLOST have held several public meetings that were part public triage but part to solicit feedback on what should get cut.
Josh Rowan, the new leader of the programs, presented the trimmed down list to Atlanta City Council’s Transportation Committee late last month.
Rowan said three things keep him up at night.
It’s right-of-way costs, utility costs and aging infrastructure — things like voids and sinkholes they find as they start to redo under the roads.
“These I think are the three biggest risks as far as the technical delivery of the projects go,” Rowan said.
The committee accepted his report. On Monday’s full Atlanta City Council meeting, the members present unanimously approved the list.
At-large Councilman Matt Westmoreland said on Monday that the list came after candid conversations in all parts of town, and he thanked Renew and TSPLOST management for their work over the last few months.
Both Renew and TSPLOST would be folded into a new Atlanta Department of Transportation that would be created under legislation that Council is now considering.
City slides listing projects that will be funded and done, as well as projects that will only be designed.
From the archives:
A February, 2017 Renew Atlanta construction list and schedule.
A November, 2017 TSPLOST construction and cost list