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Decatur City Commission increases budget for Atlanta Avenue railroad crossing project

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Decatur City Commission increases budget for Atlanta Avenue railroad crossing project

The Atlanta Avenue railroad crossing. Photo provided by the city of Decatur.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission, at its Sept. 27 meeting, approved a change order for the Atlanta Avenue railroad crossing improvements project, which increased the project budget from $400,000 to $850,000 for master planning and design.

The change order is a result of “unanticipated” factors, according to a memo from Deputy City Manager Hugh Saxon, including expanding the project to include traffic calming, a relocation of the entire crossing, expanded civic engagement on the process and delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. To see the full memo, click here.

“This a change that results from several factors,” Saxon said during the City Commission meeting. “One is we’re recommending increasing the scope of the project to make a permanent change to West Howard Avenue to accommodate generally…the traffic calming that’s been in place for the last several years, but this would be on a more permanent basis.”

The city does not have a design for the project yet. The City Commission will consider the design at a later time and there will be opportunities for public comment on the design, Saxon said. City staff hope to build upon options that were considered in December 2020.

“Hopefully we can narrow those down and keep sort of the best features of what is there now with a more permanent choice instead of the planters,” Saxon said. 

The scope of the project is also increasing to include permanent traffic-calming, bicycle and pedestrian safety, and landscape improvements to replace the planters on West Howard Avenue. This will add a major new streetscape and bike and pedestrian element to the project.

The original idea provided for a crossing in the same general area as the existing crossing. The project will now include relocating the crossing and restoring the old crossing location to a park-like setting. Additional traffic signal improvements will be added as well for the Olympic Place intersection, Saxon wrote in the memo.

There will be expanded civic engagement opportunities as well, including looking at dozens of alternatives prepared by workshop participants last year.

In August 2019, the City Commission approved the Adair crossing extension plan, which will extend Adair Street from West Howard to West College Avenue. The next step was to seek public feedback on pedestrian and bicycle priorities, streetscaping and landscaping, and traffic calming for the selected plan. The city held a virtual forum in December 2020 to receive that feedback.

The Adair crossing extension plan includes signals and pedestrian crossings at Olympic Place and at the intersections of Adair with College Ave and Howard Ave.

Residents at the meeting were supportive of adding a permanent traffic-calming measure to replace the planters and still keep cyclists and pedestrians separated from the traffic. Resident Kiril Staikov raised concerns about the crossing becoming more complicated with the new design concept.

“But I’ve got one big concern, which is that that crossing on Adair Street is now looking like four lanes to cross as the existing two,” Staikov said. 

Tomas Valenti said the design has major flaws related to the lack of queue space in the turn lanes for cars turning onto West College Avenue or Mead Road. Resident Allison Ericson urged the City Commission to make this project a priority as traffic speeds through the area and there’s no indication of the crosswalk in the area.

This sketch is of the updated project at the railroad crossing on Atlanta Avenue. The sketch is similar to the most popular concept developed during the original planning process. Photo is from the city of Decatur website.

In other business:

– The City Commission established a project budget of $1.5 million and awarding a contract of about $1.3 million to Magnum Paving for milling and repairing local streets. The streets that will be repaired are Sycamore Drive, from East Ponce de Leon Avenue to the city limits, and Merrill Avenue, from Scott Boulevard to Coventry Road, Assistant City Manager David Junger said.

The project will also include sidewalk repairs on Sycamore Drive and Merrill Avenue, as well as asphalt patches on North Parkwood Road, South McDonough Street, and Kirk Crossing Drive, and speed tables on Avery Street.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has provided about $192,000 as part of its Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant program.

Junger added that the city is using most of its available funding for the project, and he doesn’t envision other areas will be added to the paving program.

— Additionally, the city will partner with Trees Atlanta for the second year of the front yard tree program. Last year, 40 trees were planted through the program, and the goal is to plant 50 trees this year on residential properties throughout Decatur. The cost to the city will be about $12,000.

“I’m looking forward to getting 10 more trees [than] were planted last year, from 40 to 50,” Mayor Patti Garrett said. “It’s a good time to remind folks that we do have a goal of planting 200 trees by the 200th anniversary [of the city] coming up in two years, so this will help us meet that goal as well.”

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