Who's Who In Transportation

Dec. 10, 2002 PIM

March 25, 2003 PIM

SSRI Marketing Communications assisted the Georgia Department of Transportation as it began concept design and public involvement for the highly controversial Johnson Ferry-Abernathy road widening project.   SSRI helped organize the Civic Advisory Committee and prepared this backgrounder for distribution via the Sandy Springs web site and at community meetings.

The Cool Vision image was used throughout the Livable Centers Campaign and was incorporated into an ad for Georgia Trend Magazine.

SSRI Champions Abernathy Greenway -- Backgrounder on Johnson Ferry-Abernathy Widening Project

Project Summary for Sandy Springs web site -- February 2002

 

For nearly two decades, the 1.6 miles of Johnson Ferry Road and Abernathy Road between the Chattahoochee River Bridge and Roswell Road in Sandy Springs has been one of the metropolitan region’s most congested – and controversial -- traffic corridors. Now the proposed widening of the bridge over the Chattahoochee River and the widening of Abernathy Road appears to be on a fast track as a result of two important events – the adoption of a long term transportation plan for the Atlanta that meets federal air quality requirements, and Congressional passage of a federal transportation bill that directs funding priority for these important projects.

 

Since 1994 Sandy Springs Revitalization, Inc. has been working to protect and enhance established neighborhoods. While many decisions are still in the making, this article will attempt to recap the history and vision for the area, and prepare our readers for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) public involvement process expected to get underway during the first quarter of 2002.

 

Feuding Constituencies -- Conflicting Goals

During the early ‘90’s Cobb County politicians began to lobby aggressively to widen the conduit carrying commuters from their homes in Cobb across the Chattahoochee River to employment centers such as Fulton’s Perimeter Center, Buckhead and beyond. Meanwhile Sandy Springs residents with their Fulton County representatives resisted with equal vigor any plans that might prove harmful to prime neighborhoods located on the Fulton side of the river.

 

Many Sandy Springs supporters sought to maintain the status quo -- to keep Johnson Ferry south of the river at four lanes, and Abernathy at two lanes -- arguing that widening either Johnson Ferry or Abernathy was “a 24-hour solution for a 4-hour-a-day problem”. Cobb’s decision in the mid ‘90s to go ahead with the widening of Johnson Ferry Road on the Cobb side of the river from four to six lanes caused considerable concern among those advocates who were focused on finding alternatives, such as building an additional river crossing at Morgan Falls to relieve the strain at the Johnson Ferry Bridge, or providing more attractive car pooling and transit options to reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles (SOV) on the roadway. Others half joking and half seriously fantasized about controlling the problem with a tollbooth at the contested crossing.

 

A Plan Emerges

In 1995, the need to find a solution became urgent when Cobb County Commission Chairman Bill Byrne offered Cobb funds to pay for the entire project. Sandy Springs neighborhoods knew they would have to stop saying what they didn’t want, and come up with a long term vision for what they did want to happen in the Johnson Ferry/Abernathy corridor.

 

Their vision grew out of an extensive series of community meetings facilitated by Fulton District 4 Commissioner Tom Lowe, Nancy Leathers, then head of the County’s Department of Environment and Community Development, and Sandy Springs Revitalization, Inc. After months of study, a unique plan evolved -- a plan that called for the acquisition of the residential properties on both sides of Abernathy Road to create a “transportation greenway”. This approach was intended to relieve beleaguered Abernathy residents of the stress of living on a busy roadway and buffer adjacent neighborhoods from the negative effects that increased capacity might bring.

 

At the same time, the plan would solve another pressing community problem for Sandy Springs – the critical shortage of greenspace and associated amenities that contribute to quality residential living. The transportation greenway concept would create a system of walking trails and bicycle paths along either side of the roadway, and introduce neighborhood-scale traffic control elements currently lacking in the community. The broad right of way of the parkway would also provide the opportunity to create linkages to business and community-oriented facilities nearby.

 

Sandy Springs Revitalization, Inc. used the concept plan developed by the County’s engineering consultants to prepare a schematic design, tellingly named the Sandy Springs Parkway, to help visualize the community goals established at those meetings held in 1995.

 

By 1996, the transportation greenway concept for Abernathy Road seemed well on its way, having received endorsements from numerous neighborhood groups, Sandy Springs Revitalization, both the Fulton and Cobb County Board of Commissioners and then GDOT Commissioner Wayne Shackleford. Among the caveats in the Fulton Board of Commissioner’s resolution endorsing the concept were several stipulations: (1) the proposed roadway should be developed “at no significant cost to Fulton County”; (2) that the project be undertaken with a “regional commitment to develop an additional Chattahoochee River Crossing” to accommodate east-west and north side travel outside of Sandy Springs neighborhoods; and (3) that enhanced mass transit service be instituted to mitigate continuing pressure of road capacity improvement.

 

Clearing the Air

The path to an Abernathy transportation greenway was not without obstacles however. GDOT had designated the Abernathy Johnson Ferry corridor a state route thereby clearing the way to receive federal funding, however GDOT regulations stipulated that highway money could be used to purchase right-of-way needed for the roadway only. It would fall to the local jurisdiction to make up the difference with additional funds needed for greenspace and walking trails, and those funds were not available. Then in 1996, all attempts to resolve the bottleneck at the river were put on hold when the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency designated the Atlanta region a “non-attainment area” for air quality, and therefore ineligible to receive federal funds for “capacity adding road projects”.

 

During those years Sandy Springs Revitalization, Inc. continued to champion the transportation greenway concept with public officials at every level, wielding the concept drawing as their most effective marketing tool. SSRI Vice Chairman and Transportation Chairman Roger Blichfeldt engaged his GRTA Citizen committee to take up the issues for funding and implementing transportation greenways, not just for Abernathy Road or Hammond Drive, but also for neighborhood roadways throughout the Atlanta region.

 

More TEA for the 21st Century

It wasn’t until March 2000 that the Atlanta Regional Commission was finally able to put forward a conforming 25-year Regional Transportation Plan, thereby reviving hopes for the Abernathy greenway project and setting the stage for the Georgia Congressional delegation to go into action. First, U. S. 6th District Representative Johnny Isakson helped to broker an agreement among local politicians -- Chairman Mike Kenn of Fulton, Chairman Bill Byrne of Cobb and Commissioner Tom Coleman of GDOT. Then using his position on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Isakson pressed for the critical funding necessary to do the project.

 

At Isakson’s urging, Senator Max Cleland, introduced an amendment to the federal transportation appropriations bill directing GDOT to prioritize funding for improvements to Johnson Ferry Road from the Chattahoochee River to Abernathy Road, including widening the bridge over the Chattahoochee River to six lanes. The amendment also called for priority consideration in widening Abernathy Road from two to four lanes between Johnson Ferry Road and Roswell Road, and improving the Abernathy/Roswell Road intersection. The amendment authorized no new money, but directed that improvements be programmed from federal formula funds already allocated to Georgia in the FY 2002 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). By December of 2001, the FY 2002 appropriations funding for the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) had passed both houses of Congress, and was signed by President Bush just before Christmas.

 

Let’s Get Started

According to GDOT’s Urban Design Engineer, Joe Palladi, “TEA-21 has raised the priority and expectations for the Johnson Ferry Road and Abernathy Road projects to be completed quickly, possibly before the end of 2005. The process, beginning with traffic studies, aerial photography, public involvement, environmental studies, and plan preparation -- will get underway as soon as the as funding for Preliminary Engineering becomes available.”   Federal and AASHTO guidelines require that the project be designed to serve traffic over a 20-year horizon from completion. Both four and six lane alternatives will be studied and discussed as possible alternates for inclusion in the Environmental document.

 

Following on the Roswell/I-285 planning model, GDOT proposes to utilize a Citizens Advisory Committee composed of representatives from adjacent neighborhoods, civic organizations, businesses, and even a few folks from Cobb County during the Concept Development phase. The CAC will participate in a series of meetings where they will have an opportunity to examine the data, consider impacts on both the natural and manmade environment, and provide guidance on the scope of the improvements and recommended alternatives.

 

Any additional costs for implementation will be identified during the Concept Development phase. For example, funds for the bridge over the Chattahoochee will not be specified until the concept is complete. Congressman Isakson is working with Fulton and Cobb representatives now to seek a funding source to purchase the additional properties needed for the greenway along Abernathy Road.

 

Sidebar:  A Community Vision for Abernathy Road Transportation Greenway

  • Create a parkway, not a throughway – no more than four lanes designed for relatively slow (35 mph) vehicle speeds;

  • Channel regional traffic (i.e. Cobb-Perimeter) to use new parkway rather than residential streets;

  • Establish a community gateway to Sandy Springs;

  • Preserve the fabric and security of the neighborhoods, buffering them from increased traffic;

  • Remove the hazard to traffic flow and safety caused by the many residential driveways entering Abernathy;

  • Maintain linkages and convenient access between neighborhoods, to the Sandy Springs business district and to community facilities such as Abernathy Park and Arts Center, Chattahoochee River, regional path system.

  • Provide multi-modal circulation options including bike-ped and transit;

  • Provide active and passive recreation opportunities for neighborhoods;

  • Provide acoustical and visual screening for neighborhoods;

  • Maintain residential character by containing pattern of “commercial creep” along arterials;

  • Protect the watershed.

 

Sidebar:  Following The Money – Project Funding Currently Identified in the TIP

[This information is provided for individuals who are writing letters to the ARC during the public comment period on the Transportation Improvement Program]

 

The Johnson Ferry Road Project (FN 023) is currently classified as a “four-lane roadway upgrade with no additional lanes”, however GDOT has requested a change in scope to include a widening from four to six lanes with an Open Year of 2008. The draft TIP 2003-2005 programs approximately $22.671 million long range for Johnson Ferry with an Open Year of 2005.

 

The Abernathy Road Project is classified as a “capacity-adding project” with widening from 2 to 4 lanes anticipated. The Fulton County project description references “a divided landscaped median, a complete buyout of all properties on either side of the roadway, a linear park, a multi-use trail that will run through the park and a realignment of Abernathy and Brandon Mill Roads.” Approximately $15 million is programmed for Abernathy Road, including $1.5 million for Preliminary Engineering in 2002 (FY2002-2004 TIP, FN 034A) and $13.5 million for Right-Of-Way and Construction in 2003 (FY2002-2004 TIP, FN 034B). These two projects will be rolled into one, FN 034 in the 2003 – 2005 TIP.

 

The “regional commitment to develop an additional Chattahoochee River Crossing” is listed in the long range transportation plan as the Morgan Falls River Crossing (RTP, AR 014) from Lower Roswell Road to SR 400. The bridge is described as 3.3 miles long with four lanes. GDOT has lowered the cost of the bridge to $36,721,000 (was $70,000,000) and the RTP notes that it is to be funded by 100% state funds. An additional river crossing would relieve pressure on the Johnson Ferry Bridge.

 

Sidebar:  Civic Advisory Committee

The Georgia Department of Transportation has asked Sandy Springs Revitalization, Inc. to facilitate the formation of a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) to assist the GDOT in the Concept Design process for planned improvements to the Johnson Ferry and Abernathy corridors. This (20) person CAC will be composed of:

 

  • Neighborhood representatives chosen by the Abernathy Johnson Ferry Coalition (4)

  • Sandy Springs Revitalization, Inc. representatives including the SSRI Project Manager, Urban Design Committee Chair and Transportation Committee Chair (3)

  • Fulton County and Cobb County appointees (3 members from each)

  • Business representatives from the Sandy Springs Business Association and the DeKalb/Fulton CID (2 from each);

  • A representative from Sandy Springs Christian Church, the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods and a Condo/Townhouse Association (1 each).

 

GDOT hired the consulting firm of Jordan Jones & Goulding to manage public involvement.  See the official web site located at:

www.johnsonferry-abernathyroad.com for contacts and information on project progress.