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Decatur City Commission approves final designs for Atlanta, West Howard avenues

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Decatur City Commission approves final designs for Atlanta, West Howard avenues

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

Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission, at its meeting on March 21, approved the final designs for the Atlanta Avenue railroad crossing and West Howard Avenue improvements.

The plans have preliminary approval from the Georgia Department of Transportation and CSX. The city will pursue getting final approval from both entities and move forward with creating construction drawings. The city would not be able to move forward with the project without the permit from GDOT.

The city hopes to go out for bid by the end of the year and begin construction in early 2023.

In addition, the city commission approved a project budget of $35,000 and an agreement in the amount of $24,500 with Atkins North America to look at potential traffic-calming measures for Adair Street. The city anticipates asking for funding for those improvements on Adair Street next year, Deputy City Manager Hugh Saxon said. The anticipated cost of that project is about $550,000.

The current working plan, from https://www.decaturga.com/cmo/page/railroad-crossing-improvements-atlanta-avenue. Adair Street is on the top. The number of lanes a student or other user would have to cross increases from the current configuration. Pedestrian safety advocates point out that shortening crossing distances and minimizing lanes of traffic is one of the best ways to improve safety outcomes. In addition, Adair Street would become a through street from points south to West Ponce.

Decatur has been planning for a new railroad crossing since 2018. At the Aug. 5, 2019 city commission meeting, the board approved the Adair Street extension for detailed planning, design and construction of a new railroad crossing near Atlanta Avenue, according to a memo Saxon wrote dated July 30, 2019.

The city and planning team with Landis Evans held multiple public engagement opportunities and the final workshop was held in December 2021.

A summary of the civic engagement, findings, alternatives and recommendations for the project were presented to the city commission on Feb. 22, 2022.

“The general purpose of making these changes to Atlanta Avenue is to improve safety for children, pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists, reduce traffic speeds, improve accessibility over the rail crossings, provide access for public safety and school vehicles, maintain connectivity and reduce signal delays and maintain acceptable traffic flow,” Saxon said.

Other goals of the project include providing green space, simplifying the geometry of the intersection, keep the number of railroad crossing at one, and prioritizing traffic-calming, especially along West Howard Avenue.

The final plans detailed the additional measures that will improve pedestrian and cyclist safety at the new crossing, including dual separated multiuse paths to allow cyclists and pedestrians to cross the tracks away from cars, a pedestrian leading interval at all crosswalks, and lights that can be activated by the pedestrian button to prevent drivers from turning into crosswalks.

To keep traffic flowing when a train is traveling along the tracks, the design team added a right turn lane on Howard Avenue at the intersection, which is not a slip lane, said Theo Petritsch, director of transportation services at Landis Evans.

On-demand blank out signs will be at each crossing as well to indicate to drivers no right turn on red when pedestrians are present. The crosswalk at Adair Street will be 44 feet long, reducing the crossing distance from about 50 feet.

The plans also call for an additional traffic signal at Olympic Place and College Avenue, to address concerns of residents that they would not be able to safely exit that street with only a stop sign there.

When the project is constructed, the pavement of the current intersection will be taken out and will be replaced with greenspace, Saxon told Decaturish.

The next steps in the Atlanta Avenue project include moving forward with the final design and construction documents, applying for permits, working on the traffic-calming plan for Adair Street and coordinating the design with the West Howard Avenue project. The estimated cost of the project is $4 million.

Decatur resident Tomas Valenti urged the city commission to add a quiet zone at the intersection and presented the board with a petition asking them to do so. Some commissioners encouraged the city staff to look into adding a quiet zone.

The final design of West Howard Avenue includes on-street parking, two travel lanes, planter islands, a two-way bicycle track and the existing 10-foot path. Photo courtesy of the city of Decatur.

The city commission increased the project budget from $400,000 to $800,000 for master planning and design in September 2021 to allow for permanent traffic-calming measures on West Howard Avenue that will replace the colorful, temporary planters.

The plans for improving West Howard Avenue include retaining the existing two lanes for vehicle traffic — one in each direction — but replacing the temporary planters with a permanent 4-foot planted buffer that would border a new bidirectional separated bike path.

The project area on West Howard Avenue is between Paden Circle and Commerce Drive.

“On West Howard Avenue our objective is to formalize the changes that were made during the Reimagine West Howard process by adding a permanent landscaped buffer, permanently reducing the street to two vehicle lanes, a two-way cycle track and make landscape improvements,” Saxon said.

The plan also includes on-street parking on one side of Howard, opposite the landscaped buffer and bicycle track.

The city would like to convert West Howard Avenue to a neighborhood street with a target speed limit of 25 miles per hour, which would require approval from the state Department of Public Safety.

The existing 10-foot wide multiuse path on the south side of the street would be separated from the dedicated bike lanes with a physical buffer. On the north side, an 8-foot section of existing pavement would be reserved for on-street parking in front of the sidewalk and another narrow buffer would separate the street parking from the sidewalk.

Construction of the new crossing at Adair Street, will include a “meandering” of the roadway along West Howard Avenue, introducing slight curves along the planted buffer areas that will help signal to car drivers that they are on a residential shared street.

The next steps in the process of improving Howard Avenue are to complete a speed study, select the target speed, identify traffic-calming measures, work on design and construction plans and coordinate with the Atlanta Avenue railroad crossing design. The estimated cost of the project is $2 million.

More information about the planned improvements to the railroad crossing can be found on the city website here.

Writer Cathi Harris contributed to this article.

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