The small Paces Battle neighborhood, nestled on the Chattahoochee River, sees its quiet, bucolic lifestyle threatened by a plan to make Cobb Parkway six lanes from Paces Mill Road in Cobb to Northgate Drive in Fulton.
The Buckhead community received help Thursday night in its fight against the Georgia Department of Transportation plan to remove its heavily wooded buffer from the highway. The politically influential Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods voted unanimously to support a Paces Battle proposal to limit the construction plan.
With two GDOT representatives and a number of neighborhood residents packing the stately Peachtree Presbyterian Church meeting room, the discussion at times grew heated over GDOT plans to rebuild the Chattahoochee River Bridge from Cobb to Fulton counties and six-lane the road from Paces Mill Road to Northgate Drive, the back entrance to The Lovett School. U.S. 41 is Northside Parkway south of the bridge and Cobb Parkway on the other side.
Concerns about congestion from the road are already high because of the construction of the new North Atlanta High School at the IBM building on Northside Parkway near the Chattahoochee. With Lovett on the other side, along with Trinity School on the IBM property, the threat to student safety also was a central topic of debate.
The BCN voted to support a Paces Battle plan to limit the project to reconstruction of the Chattahoochee bridge, which all agreed is necessary. The bridge, built in 1935, has a low sufficiency rating of 47, according to GDOT documents. GDOT district engineer Bryant Poole said at the meeting that work on the bridge could begin in January of next year.
But the plan to widen the road from four to six lanes drew opposition from BCN members already upset about traffic coming from Cobb County overflowing into adjoining neighborhood streets. In Cobb County, the six laning extends to Akers Mill Road.
After Poole said that the project had received significant funding from Cobb's transportation department, BCN Chairman and Chastain Park resident Jim King vehemently expressed his ire at Cobb commuters working in Buckhead packing Buckhead streets such as West Conway, Mount Paran and West Paces Ferry.
"We don't have a congestion problem except for Cobb County people cutting through our neighborhoods," King told GDOT project manager Tim Matthews, who gave background about the project, around since 1985, and answered questions.
"How will Fulton, the city of Atlanta and Buckhead benefit?" King asked.
Matthews said average daily traffic on the road is expected to grow from 36,100 vehicles in 2012 to 47,150 in 2032.
King later told Matthews, "Your plan creates more congestion for us, not less. This is a recipe for disaster. You're just plowing more cars through these neighborhoods."
Matthews said that after a certain point, GDOT studies don't consider where traffic from its projects will disperse.
Paces Battle neighborhood representative Don Hemrick presented the neighborhood's case. The Paces Battle plan, which he said was developed in consultation with engineers, would also push the GDOT's "phase 1," from Paces Mill in Cobb to Northgate, to Phase 2, down to Mount Paran Road. The second phase is not now scheduled for construction, Matthews said.
Hemrick said that the GDOT plan would result in the removal of trees as tall as 80 feet that serve as a buffer between the 49-home community and the road. He said the project would encroach upon some people's homes. The trees would need to be removed so that Ga. Power could move power lines, he said. The community also is a home to river wildlife such as blue herons, geese and ducks, Hemrick said. Another bone of contention is the U.S. Park Service plan to construct a new boat ramp on the river in conjunction with the bridge project.
Poole's remark that a light rail project down U.S. 41 might be included in proposals to be submitted to voters in 2012 for funding under the proposed 1-cent metro sales tax led to the BCN approving a second motion for the GDOT to consider placing light rail equipment along the bridge. Although Poole said Cobb now supports light rail, he cautioned that any changes in plans might result in the project having to go back to the drawing board and a 10-year delay.
Another BCN concern was GDOT improving the I-75 Mount Paran Road interchange. Poole said that funding is already in the GDOT budget for a study of the interchange.