A rendering shows a view looking north at the Georgia Department of Transportation’s design for a new Northside Drive bridge over Peachtree Creek.

Residents expressed safety concerns about the design for a new Northside Drive bridge over Peachtree Creek and are worried an I-75 detour won’t work and drivers will instead clog local roads.

Over 200 people attended a Georgia Department of Transportation open house on the detours needed to replace the bridge held March 13 at Northside United Methodist Church.

GDOT plans to close Northside Drive just north of Atlanta Memorial Park in 2020 to replace the aging bridge. The plan would also add a new, separate pedestrian bridge to have somewhere to locate water and sewer pipes, but it would be on the side use less by pedestrians, residents said. The plan calls for removing an existing barrier between the bridge sidewalk and road on the side used most by pedestrians, which could make crossing the bridge less safe, residents said.

Most residents were pleased to hear the amount of time Northside Drive is planned to be closed has been shortened to four months, shorter than the six to nine months projected in a previous GDOT presentation.

GDOT officials are also still looking into the possibility of having crews work on a 24-hour schedule, which could bring the closure down to 90 days. The four month projection would be on a 50 hour per week schedule.

GDOT would first work with the city and neighbors adjacent to the project before changing the schedule,” said Brian McHugh, the project manager.

“Most people around the project want it done as quickly as possible, but people who live right next to it may have noise concerns,” he said.

The official GDOT detour is planned to be I-75, which would have drivers travelling north getting on I-75 at Northside Drive. Drivers traveling south would enter I-75 at West Paces Ferry Road. The local detour GDOT expects most drivers to take includes the roads Howell Mill, Collier and Peachtree and Peachtree Battle Avenue.

Many residents asked GDOT to urge the city to place “no through traffic” signs at the entrance of local streets to deter traffic from drivers that don’t live in the area. While the official detour is the interstate, residents are concerned navigation phone apps like Waze will direct people through residential roads, similar to the issues the neighborhood experienced in 2016 during the I-85 bridge collapse closure.

“We’re going to have to make the city be aggressive in limiting through traffic,” one resident said.

GDOT previously proposed that option and an option that would build a temporary bridge for drivers to use while the new bridge is built. However, that option did not receive support from residents, would cost more and make construction take longer, according to GDOT.

The plan with the I-75 detour is estimated to cost $6.5 million to $7 million. Building a temporary bridge would bring that cost up to an estimated $8 million to $8.5 million, according to GDOT.

GDOT plans to do all utility work in 12 months beginning 2019 before closing the bridge. The bridge and road would then be closed in 2020.

“Our plan is to keep the road open as long as possible,” said Courtney Lovelace, a GDOT design engineer.

Approximately 15,900 vehicles use the bridge daily, GDOT said.

The existing bridge was built in 1926 and is nearing the end of its lifespan. The flow of water and the size and weight of the present-day cars have contributed to the worsening of the integrity of the bridge, according to GDOT.

A rendering shows a view looking southeast at the Georgia Department of Transportation’s design for a new Northside Drive bridge over Peachtree Creek.

The proposed bridge would have three traffic lanes. Both sides would have a shoulder and the western side would have a five-foot sidewalk. A separate pedestrian bridge would be built on the eastern side.

The new bridge has removed a barrier wall that currently exists between the western sidewalk and the road, a move residents frequently questioned at the open house.

“It’s so dangerous. Cars sometimes go 50 mph down the road. You have to have the barrier,” one resident said.
The pedestrian bridge would not have easy access to existing sidewalks. People are also most often crossing the bridge on the western side because that is the side next to the Atlanta Memorial Park, said Katherine McClure, a resident.

“People nine to 98 years old use that sidewalk. People are always pushing strollers and walking dogs. They can build the wall. They have to,” she said. “If there isn’t a wall, I won’t let my kids go to the playground anymore,” McClure said.

The separate pedestrian bridge would be built before the new road bridge, but not open until that project is completed. The pedestrian bridge was originally conceived when GDOT realized it had nowhere to locate sewer and water pipes. The pipes now would run underneath the pedestrian bridge, McHugh said.

The bridge’s design doesn’t allow for the pipes to be run underneath it, he said.

When asked if GDOT had a plan for pedestrians before it realized it needed somewhere for pipes, McHugh said he did not know. He said the bridge was part of the project when he became the project manager.

Residents also were disappointed that a crosswalk was not added in front of the bridge across Northside Drive. One doesn’t exist now, but most people still use that route.

Lovelace said he did not know the reason one wasn’t added, but it is something GDOT can consider.
The bridge is planned to be four-and-a-half feet higher than the current bridge, which would minimize possible future flood damage, according to GDOT.

Some residents were concerned that the amount the roads will need to incline to meet the new bridge will worsen flooding problems at their homes by causing more water to run the road.

Lovelace said GDOT’s studies don’t indicate that it will be a problem.
“I just need some assurance our house is not going to go out the window,” one resident said of flooding concerns.

Comments can be submitted online until March 28. To submit a comment, visit dot.ga.gov/PS/Public/PublicOutreach.