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DeKalb County studying potential improvements to North Druid Hills Road

DeKalb County

DeKalb County studying potential improvements to North Druid Hills Road

Andrew Antweiler with KCI Technologies (center) talks with community members about recommendations for the North Druid Hills corridor during a community meeting on Sept. 14, 2023, at Clairmont Presbyterian Church. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

This story has been updated.

DeKalb County, GA — DeKalb County is working with consultants to study the North Druid Hills corridor to identify transportation infrastructure projects.

The study is looking at North Druid Hills Road between Briarcliff Road Northeast and Lawrenceville Highway, and Valley Brook Road from Lawrenceville Highway to East Ponce de Leon Avenue. The scoping study aims to identify ways the corridor can be transformed into a multimodal-friendly complete street that supports various uses along the street.

The recommendations largely propose maintaining four lanes on North Druid Hills Road.

However, the study calls for six lanes in front of North DeKalb Mall, which also connects with a GDOT project in that area. GDOT is proposing to widen a portion of North Druid Hills and Valley Brook Road near Stone Mountain Freeway to six lanes. The county’s project would connect to the GDOT project and proposes six lanes between Lawrenceville Highway and Birch Road.

“We’re not recommending to widen it the whole length of the corridor,” said Andrew Antweiler, senior project manager with KCI Technologies. “There are turn lanes, there are improvements at major intersections, but in keeping with the character of the area, I think it’s important to say it’s not a six-lane widening project [overall].”

The county and engineers from KCI Technologies and Michael Baker International held a community meeting on Thursday, Sept. 14, at Clairmont Presbyterian Church to share draft recommendations and gather feedback from the public.

The draft recommendations and a survey are available on the project website. The survey is open until Oct. 6. To provide input through the survey, click here.

“The county wanted to study this corridor, North Druid Hills from Briarcliff to U.S. 78, and also Valley Brook Road,” Antweiler said. “This is really the first step in identifying potential projects for the corridor. You want to conduct community outreach, you want to study the traffic conditions, look at what feasible alternatives can be recommended. Out of this study, then the county can pursue programming projects.”

The next steps in the project include identifying specific projects and funding for them.

The county and consultants held the first community meeting in May and heard several concerns from residents and drivers.

“We heard some of the top traffic concerns were congestion in the corridor and speeding,” Antweiler said. “Similarly, we heard concerns about safety. That helped us focus on those two areas – how can we improve the major intersections from an operations standpoint, and how could we also improve safety along the corridor and reduce crashes.”

Other concerns include bike and pedestrian safety, road conditions, and vehicle safety.

Other recommendations include:

– Adding a 10-foot shared use path on the south side of North Druid Hills Road.

– Adding a five-foot grass buffer and a six-foot sidewalk on the north side.

– Additional through and turn lanes at traffic signals.

– Adding raised medians, dedicated left-turn lanes, and reduced conflict U-turns along North Druid Hills Road.

“What we’re showing on the concepts is the idea that while we add a median, we’re going to have openings and have places for people to make U-turns, so they can get back to their destinations,” Antweiler said.

Bill Ruhsam with Michael Baker International added that the median is intended to restrict the number of places where drivers can turn to reduce the number of conflicts and crashes.

“The median provides a little bit less friction, so people will drive a little bit better, less stop and go,” he said.

– The addition of pedestrian lighting transit enhancements, landscaping, and stormwater enhancements.

“The idea is to start looking where there are no sidewalks, we’re looking at sidewalks that are in disrepair. We may be looking at doing some improvements on that and where feasible maybe widen the sidewalk,” said Donald Williams, director of transit planning at Intellectual Concepts, LLC. “The other piece of it is to start looking at enhancements to shelters at bus stops and giving folks an opportunity to sit down.”

MARTA would be involved in anything to do with bus stops or buses.

“The idea is to improve the overall experience when we’re talking about transit, and of course for the bus operator, making sure that as they travel down the corridor they have [the proper] turning radius,” Williams said.

The study is broken up into three segments. The first segment spans from Briarcliff Road past Spring Creek to the bridge over the CSX railroad. In that area, GDOT is working to replace the bridge and add a multi-use path, as well as a median from Spring Creek to Willivee. Segment one stops where the GDOT project begins.

After Briarcliff, it’s recommended that a third lane be added going through toward I-85.

“The problem with that intersection is the sheer number of cars that are trying to get through in every direction, and if you can add more lanes at the intersection you can process more vehicles through it,” Ruhsam said.

There is also a GDOT project planned for the I-85 interchange, which includes expanding North Druid Hills Road to six lanes between Buford Highway and Briarcliff Road.

Segment 1 of the county’s project includes the three major intersections with Briarcliff Road, Lavista Road, and Clairmont Road. Additional left turn lanes would be added at Briarcliff and Lavista. Some parking lots of businesses will be impacted, and the county would have to purchase the Dunkin’ Donuts property at Lavista and North Druid Hills.

“There’s no way we could cure them in a way that would keep their business operating,” Ruhsam said.

The study also proposes to create a new connection of Azalea Circle to North Druid Hills in a new location to make an intersection with the Toco Hills Shopping Center. Commercial driveways would be consolidated as well to limit the number of commercial entry points and bring drivers to a traffic signal if possible.

“We also have some locations where you can turn left off of North Druid Hills, but you cannot turn left onto [North Druid Hills],” Ruhsam said.

For example, drivers could turn left into the Toco Hills Shopping Center, but could only turn right when exiting the shopping center.

Segment 2 picks up at Willivee Drive and goes to Lawrenceville Highway. The main recommendations in this corridor include the raised median, new sidewalks, and increasing to six lanes at Birch Road.

Segment 3 is Valley Brook Road between Stone Mountain Freeway and East Ponce de Leon Avenue. The engineers have recommended closing sidewalk gaps and making sure the pedestrian path is complete. There are two possible alternatives at Valley Brook Road, Orion Drive, and Cedar Creek Drive.

“When we were out here talking to the public a few months ago, what we heard from everyone was they want it to be slower, they want a safe walking path and of course, conversely, they also don’t want to get caught in traffic when they’re in their vehicles,” Ruhsam said.

He added that the issue is when vehicles are coming east from North Druid Hills and then are suddenly in a residential neighborhood. There are two proposals for the area. One option is to add a raised median with some landscaping elements or add a roundabout.

A new traffic light would also be added at Valley Brook Road and Hollywood Road.

Resident Lara Martin said she appreciates the time that was put into the study and considering what the future will look like. She travels along the corridor frequently

“I appreciate their consideration of all of these options and of options that are environmentally friendly and people-focused,” Martin said. “The amount of traffic is incredible. My big concern is the big unknown of North DeKalb Mall’s redevelopment and the impact that’s going to have on the number of cars on the road.”

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