ATLANTA — One Atlanta neighborhood said it feels left out, overlooked and cut off. Residents in the historic South Atlanta community said they have waited nearly two years for a new bridge, while experiencing dangerous and time-consuming detours.
The community is quickly changing, with new apartments, homes and shops sprouting around a set of Norfolk Southern railroad tracks and an older neighborhood.
"It's a pretty diverse area, tends to be a little lower economically, but it's changing very quickly," Devon Dixon, co-president of the South Atlanta Civic League, said. "It's a tight-knit community. Historically, this neighborhood has been divided, this part of town. You’ve got the interstate and the Norfolk Southern tracks.”
However, residents said traffic is still a major concern, with the bridge on McDonough Boulevard forming one of the biggest roadblocks. The Georgia Department of Transportation initially said construction on the new bridge would be completed by early 2022. However, GDOT said that timeframe was pushed back due to relocating public and private services and utilities, along with railroad use in the area. Construction on the bridge has been ongoing since February 2020.
"It’s a great neighborhood because you’re close to everything, but there are some challenges to living in an area that’s been historically underserved and underdeveloped," Kimberlee Jones, a South Atlanta resident said. "Along with not having many stores, banks and grocery stores, there’s not basic traffic support.”
The project also includes the realignment of intersections that have become dangerous for drivers as they try and get around the bridge construction. Those intersections include McDonough Boulevard , Lakewood Avenue and Milton Avenue.
“There are so many thoroughfares, but they basically go unpatrolled, unchecked," Jones said. "So you have a lot of speeding, traffic, a lot of accidents.”
Dixon said delays have forced drivers to go 15-20 minutes out of the way, and pedestrians could spend upwards of 45 minutes trying to walk around the bridge construction.
"With the bridge, it significantly reduces transportation time if there’s a train on the track," Dixon said. "The bridge will go over it, so it’s no longer an impact. Without it, we’re stuck. People are essentially making blind U-turns, illegal U-turns into oncoming traffic at times just to get in and out of the neighborhood.”
The bridge has also put a dent in local businesses. Fekadu Alemu owns Lakewood Food Mart, one of the few stores near the bridge. He said the access to I-20 and the Connector offer an attractive option for residents to move to the area. However, the bridge construction has caused him to pay rent out of pocket just to stay in business.
"I just stay here for future hope, for survival. I’m not making money," Alemu said. "There’s no way to get here. All these neighborhoods behind the bridge, they’re left out.”
Once completed, the new concrete bridge is expected to be about 170-feet long and 54-feet wide. GDOT said the new bridge would be sturdier and wider to be able to accommodate an increase in truck traffic. There will also be ADA-compliant sidewalks. Residents said they're hopeful of seeing new business and a return to normalcy.
For now, they said being allowed to use the bridge in a limited way could help.
“We would really like some sort of a pedestrian option as bridge construction progresses, to at least allow pedestrians and bikes to get across the bridge," Dixon said. "That would be not ideal, but a better solution for us, versus having them walk around.”