The Atlanta ReConnector

 The poorly named I-75 /I-85 “Connector” does just the opposite.

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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.

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This was the way I remembered it looked in the 1960’s– so cosmopolitan, no?  (Come on, I was an embryo!)
Construction_on_the_Downtown_Connector_with_the_city_in_the_background_looking_southwest_Atlanta_Georgia_April_26_1984
This was the “Freeing of the Freeways” in the 1980’s. When construction was completed, we drove around the city like mad– getting everywhere in a few minutes. Seriously, I planned more than 3 events per evening with diverse people in different areas of town– from Buckhead to East Atlanta! Unfortunately, the reconstruction was so successful (temporarily), most of Atlanta forgot about MARTA. (Except me, who took it to work every day and loved every minute of it.)

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.

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Soon under construction are nicely arched “aspirational” bridges where Peachtree crosses the Connector at two locations.
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One winner of the latest competition designed landscaped hilly bridges. Place these hills all over the highway– is what I propose.

Therefore I have taken a stab at this giant conundrum. Please prepare your overripe fruit for throwing and/or your cyber snarkiness abilities!

My plan

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.

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The Concept

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.

Atlanta Reconnector Wayne D Anderson

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.)

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The magnificent Champs Elysees in Paris.
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What the Champs would look like without cars!
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Las Ramblas is a wonderful strolling place every evening in Barcelona. Note that pedestrians are in the middle, cars to each side!
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Atlantans have shown their love for strolling, running, and cycling, in droves, on the BeltLine. Above is Las Ramblas.
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Although not on it’s primary axis, Atlanta’s Millennium Gate could be seen along the Avenue of Atlantans.

 

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The Center Civil and Human Rights would be at the Parkway’s termination at Centennial Olympic Park.
Atlanta Reconnector Brookwood
This is the northernmost segment: from Collier Rd to Brookwood, to 11th St.
Upper Downtown
This view shows the plan from 10th St, south to the middle of Downtown.

ATL Reconnector South

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.

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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.

Last word: Atlanta needs to think regionally and get united! No more splitting off into tiny cities– I get it, but this is a complex metropolitan area which needs solidifying into a greater whole, not splintering NIMBYS. Be proud– we are all Atlantans!

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2 thoughts on “The Atlanta ReConnector

  1. I like using Las Ramblas as inspiration.

    Why not simply dig the tunnel beneath the downtown connector? The Ramblas Atlanta would replace what we now know as 75/85.

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    1. Thanks, Bill, for your input and interest. I love Las Ramblas, too.

      My thought line is, because the connector is so completely serpentine curved, that perhaps straight tunnels, west of downtown may be less expensive. But, with all ingress/egress ramps having to be new, I don’t know.

      This is an exercise in big concepts that would need much study by the transportation experts.

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