The poorly named I-75 /I-85 “Connector” does just the opposite.
It is a physical, psychological and spiritual barrier which separates Midtown Atlanta from the Westside and Downtown Atlanta, and the neighborhoods of Summerhill and Peoplestown from Mechanicsville and Pittsburgh. And the Old 4th Ward from Sweet Auburn and Downtown. It is a gaping wound in the fabric of the city which separates people, neighborhoods, and is one of the major reasons why Downtown Atlanta traffic is bad. The 1950’s plan to bring two major US interstates together as one in the middle of the city was such a bad plan that, ultimately, it will have to be rectified, and at great cost.
The benefits of change, however, will be great and many.
The pictures below show how the slice into the urban fabric evolved from a smaller to a very deep and threatening cut.
The Georgia DOT recently asked citizens
for their ideas about how to solve this major issue, while they stated it was as necessary as it was going to be difficult (read: expensive), and also mentioned that tunnels were not out of the question. Indeed, the city is too built out to build new highways and the public has finally come around to the mass-transit solution.
Not addressing traffic, but image, the city’s current plan is to put lipstick on the pig, by “beautifying” the bridges. While perhaps a temporary visual improvement, it does not address the real problems. However, the bridge designers did a great job.
Therefore I have taken a stab at this giant conundrum. Please prepare your overripe fruit for throwing and/or your cyber snarkiness abilities!
is to build several deep underground tunnels with the magnificent tunnel boring machine technology typically used today. When MARTA was built, most was shallow open trenching, except Downtown at Peachtree Center and Five Points Stations which are deep underground having been tunneled through solid (Stone Mountain) granite. Yes, I understand that Stone Mountain goes underground– right under Peachtree Center. So, tunnels are difficult and expensive here– unlike LA having to build their new subway tunnels through sand!
Just imagine, I-75 comes down from Canada and up from South Florida; I-85 comes east from Montgomery and up to Richmond. That is a ____load of traffic which is dumped together for ten miles through a centrally organized metropolitan area of 5.8 million people. This weekend, they expect an additional 300,000 persons, in cars, here for the Falcons first pre-season home game, the first Ga Tech football season game, sci-fabulous DragonCon, and Vice President Bidens’s speech at the Buckhead Intercontinental Hotel. Let’s all be on the “Connector” at once!
And the grid! Yes, believe it or not, Atlanta does indeed have a grid. Well, in the central city, only, but it doesn’t work because it was designed around five railroad lines with up to 350 trains per day! Today, the train network is not as much the problem as the Downtown Connector is. Scores and scores of streets do not cross over or under the barrier, leaving a precious few streets to bear the burden of the metropolis.
So, my plan is to remove I-75 and I-85 completely from their current location– which is only about 5 blocks from the center of the city. Provide a tunnel for I-75 from Collier Rd on the northside to Lakewood where the two highways are split. Provide a tunnel for I-85 from the Brookwood Exchange south near the other tunnel to the Lakewood split. GDOT can determine whether we need two or three 10 mile tunnels, as we should definitely provide MARTA subways all along the routes of both tunnels.
Next, what to do with the gaping hole that splits the city?
Build a concrete viaduct over most of the area from Collier Road to Lakewood (or at least to I-20). Underground, reuse a portion of the highway as smaller arterial transportation, the other half would be used for another MARTA subway line. And plenty of room for any new utilities, fiber optics, sewers, etc., which are needed.
Above, miles of beautiful greenway called Atlanta United Park will bring the natural Peachtree Ridge of the Georgia hills back to the center of the city.
Since Atlanta was never planned to become a metropolis, even beautiful Peachtree St feels too narrow in many areas to be the main boulevard of an entire region. So, on top of the park will be the Avenue of Atlantans. I’m thinking of a scaled back (only 3 lanes?) Champs Elysees– right out of Paris but, also, for pedestrians– like Las Ramblas in Barcelona. It should be a complete street, including generous bicycle amenities, but also a “great street”. The Avenue of Atlantans will split off Peachtree Street at Brookwood Station going south through the art filled park, on an appropriately hilly path over many streets which need to cross below to reconnect the grid. It would end at the Center for Civil and Human Rights at Centennial Olympic Park, while offering a beautiful view of Atlanta’s skyline along the way. (Actually, my only reservation to the idea was eliminating the skyline view from the highway. But, indeed, it has become increasingly difficult to absorb the beauty while trying to stay alive on the Connector.)
Reconnecting the street grid is key
to offering many more driving and walking paths though the city. I would recommend connecting every possible street you can imagine, and then some more. This will take a lot of pressure off of Piedmont Ave, Juniper St, Peachtree St, West Peachtree St, Spring St, and Williams St. In turn, all of these streets need to revert back to two-way traffic as it has been proven to be much safer, and promotes the pedestrian lifestyle.
One of the most important benefits of this plan
is its allowance for two more north-south MARTA heavy rail lines underground through the most dense part of the city. This will allow for more competitive development Downtown, than the suburbs which will soon have MARTA trains. It could possibly help solve the need for commuter rail through the city already loaded with cargo trains. It would all interconnect well with the planned Atlanta BeltLine transit which I truly hope will be constructed before projected timelines. Atlanta needs more mass transit and additional pedestrian friendly areas sooner than it can be built, so just do it!
Perhaps the most important benefit would be the improvement upon the English Avenue and Vine City neighborhoods. These would have direct access to more MARTA trains allowing for development of plenty of affordable housing and elimination of a few of Atlanta’s food deserts. These areas are in dire need and are planned for improvements and their “rising up” as the new Mercedes-Benz Falcons & Atlanta United Stadium is being built next door.
This would take years and billions of dollars to complete, as well as the political will of Atlantans. But Atlanta has the 17th largest economy in the world, and its reputation rests on its expertise in transportation, logistics and technology. Unless driverless car pods can rescue the Connector, something will have to be done. Think about it, and talk with your politicians.