By John Schaffner

Traffic congestion along Howell Mill Road near the I-75 interchange—a longtime and growing thorn for southwest Buckhead residents and businesses—may get a little relief in about eight months.

The city on April 24 finally began construction work on the widening of a small stretch of Howell Mill Road south of I-75 and improvements to two Howell Mill intersections at Chattahoochee Avenue and at Bellemeade/Defoors avenues.

The intersection of Howell Mill and Chattahoochee has long been considered one of the most congested and worst to navigate in the metro Atlanta area, with tractor trailers and other large trucks often getting caught in the tight turning area or the intersection and having to back up to make their turn, causing massive traffic backups.

The project will include widening Howell Mill from White Street on the north through the Chattahoochee Avenue intersection on the south, adding turn lanes at Chattahoochee and the Bellemeade/Defoors avenues intersections, improved sidewalks and crosswalks on both sides of Howell Mill and other improvements. The budget for the project is just over $3 million—all city funds.

This project, which was originally part of a 1994 City of Atlanta bond issue, crusade of the Northwest Community Alliance (NCA) of neighborhoods and businesses about five years ago and resulted in numerous meetings between NCA representatives, City Council members Clair Muller and Felicia Moore and the city’s Department of Public Works.

It culminated in the ground breaking for the project April 24 at the corner of Bellmeade Avenue and Howell Mill Road, at least a year later than had been hoped for and anticipated.

Residents and businesses in the area felt an urgency for the completion of the road project because of the new District at Howell Mill shopping center development of Selig Enterprises and the addition of hundreds of apartment units connected to that shopping center development.

It had been hoped the road project would have been completed before the opening of the Wal-Mart store as part of the Selig development last fall. However, changes in project design and delays in obtaining purchases of right-of-way pushed the start of the project back and the completion to the end of this year or the beginning of 2008.

According to Scott Selig, vice president of Selig Enterprises who attended the groundbreaking for the road project, there will be an official grand opening for the District at Howell Mill—with all of the stores and restaurants open—in a couple of months.

As part of its commitment to the neighborhoods and the city, Selig Enterprises paid to have a new traffic signal installed at the entrance to the District at Howell Mill and also paid to have a state-of-the-art traffic signal synchronization system put in place along Howell Mill from I-75 to Chattahoochee Avenue.

Council members Muller, who represents the east side of Howell Mill, and Moore, who represents the west side, were joined at the groundbreaking by Sandra Jennings, of the city’s Department of Public Works, and project manager Greg Holder. Representing the neighborhood and business communities in the area as speakers were NCA Chairman Michael Koblentz and Scott Selig of Selig Enterprises.

Both Muller and Moore thanked Koblentz for “pushing the project forward” over the past five years and commented that this is just a small part of what is needed to meet the growth and development demands in the area up and down Howell Mill Road both north and south of I-75. The two members of city council said state and regional funding will be needed to meet future traffic and transportation needs.

For this project, Koblentz said, the decision was made to pass over a broader $17 million local/state/federal fix on Howell Mill—that could of taken 5-10 years to implement—and do a smaller, city-funded project that could be done more quickly and hopefully would solve some of the major intersection problems.

Just about everyone at the groundbreaking agreed that the next major traffic bottleneck that needs to be dealt with along Howell Mill Road is between I-75 and Collier Road. Discussions about that began with Councilwoman Muller in mid-April at her offices and included representatives of southwest Buckhead neighborhoods.