At the Jan. 16 City Council meeting, City Manager Brian Johnson and Community Development Director Diana Wheeler shared a presentation on the Highway 141 Grade Separated Crossing.
The presentation follows the conclusion of research done by the Pedestrian Safety Task Force, which presented its findings at the December 2017 City Council meeting, and the Highway 141 Corridor Study.
“With those two major efforts having concluded, the Mayor and Council said, ‘It’s time for us to get back up to speed on where we are with this thing. Are we going to fish or cut bait on this?’ So they tasked me with first getting up to speed myself, because I was not here for any of the socializing of this the first time, and then for me to come back and give them my opinion on where we kind of are based on all this,” explained Johnson later during a podcast interview with PeachtreeCornersLife.com.
The presentation began by addressing the origin of a need for the bridge. Studies, a safety analysis, vehicular traffic volumes, and the expected increase in pedestrian traffic due to activities and shared parking between Town Center and The Forum on Peachtree Parkway all led to the conclusion that a grade-separated crossing was needed.
In relation to vehicular traffic volume, Average Daily Trips have increased one percent per year since 2009. At the time of the study, Average Daily Trips were 44,240. It is anticipated that in 10 years, Peachtree Parkway will carry nearly 50,000 cars daily.
A demand and safety study conducted by Pond & Company in November 2016 concluded that a bridge could potentially convert 2,600 vehicular trips per day into walking trips. The study also noted that when large volumes of pedestrians cross a road as expansive as SR 141, the amount of time given to them to cross could disrupt flow on major streets. It also mentioned that the use of a pedestrian crossing signal can take up to 50 seconds at 141/Forum Drive. Twenty seconds are added to the adjacent signals at Peachtree Corners Circle/East Jones. In turn, it takes those lights eight cycles to reset to ‘non-pedestrian’ flow. This section of the presentation also pointed out that there is an increased risk of pedestrian-vehicle collisions between 6 to 9 p.m.
This research led to the conclusion that the main objectives for Peachtree Parkway are to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety.
A bridge was not the only option considered for achieving those two objectives. Both a bridge and tunnel were considered and the pros and cons of each were weighed. In terms of safety, functionality (space for pedestrians, bikes, and handicap accessibility), sociability, image, and maintenance the bridge came out on top. The Pond & Company study also included estimates for the cost of a standard bridge ($4.5 million) or tunnel ($6.3 million).
When the time came to select the design of the bridge, the process involved gathering data from a technical subcommittee, citizen committee, design consultants, research, analysis of options, review of alternatives, development of multiple options, and public input.
In 2014, the following four options were presented to the public.
In 2015, the initial four options were then widdled down to the two most popular designs—one being more modern and the other more traditional.
Throughout the first half of 2016, further public input was garnered through presentations at community and organizational meetings and surveys at high schools.
Based on the information gathered, during the second half of 2016 the city came to six conclusions:
- The design should be more clearly focused on pedestrian safety
- The structure of the bridge should be simplified
- The scale of the structure should be reduced
- Emphasis should be on functionality (i.e., add elevators to reduce crossing time, provide horizontal safety screening)
- Cost should be an initial consideration
- The appearance should be characterized as “distinctive,” not “iconic” and should rely on historic precedence (i.e., original Jones Bridge)
Aspects of the Jones Bridge that the city drew inspiration from included its arch geometry, steel structure, diagonal cables, horizontal railing, mahogany color, and more.
“There was a lot of community concern and involvement about what people thought were over-the-top designs and twin spires and all that kind of stuff. I took all of the comments from the public and, with the help of staff, we kind of got down to what I feel the community wanted,” said Johnson regarding the new design.
2017 Revised Bridge Design Objectives were as follows:
- Use a simple structure
- Lower scale
- Be cost-effective
- Provide enclosure to enhance safety
- Replace long ramps with elevators
- Limit add-ons and extras
- Incorporate traditional, as well as contemporary, materials and features
- Rely on historical precedents for design inspiration
- Ensure visibility at night
These objectives led to the creation of the latest design of the bridge, of which, renderings during both day and nighttime can be seen below.
Further explaining details of the new design and the thinking behind it, Johnson said. “It has two elevators. It will be stairs and elevators. It does not have ramps, which can be added in the future … The two elevator shafts will have the design that we kind of consider our ‘gateway design,’ where we have gateway signage. So they’ll have a distinct look to them. And then we found ways to prefabricate some of the span itself to save money … I tried to get somewhere in the middle, which is, there are people who think that it should be more than just a span, just a way to get around. They want it to be more distinctive. It’s an opportunity to actually have a distinctive landmark and everything but then conversely, there are those who are like, ‘Let’s not get ridiculous and spend $10 million plus.’”
Johnson also explained that his goal was to present a design that is cost-effective and well received by the public, meaning it could then be used as a template for other pedestrian bridges in the city.
“Everyone seems to think that it’s only The Forum and Town Center. There’s at least one other location, that have in a number of studies in years past including the Pedestrian Safety Task Force, and that location is down near Holcomb Bridge and 141, where you know Target and Dick’s Sporting Good and Chick-fil-A and everything are, right in that area, which is a very plausible location that there could be a bridge too. So the thought would be that if a decision is made to do it that it would be the same design basically,” said Johnson.
The presentation concluded with a slide detailing the estimated cost of the new design.
Peachtree Parkway Pedestrian Bridge
Engineer Estimate of Probable Construction Cost
Tied Arch Bridge (170’ x 14’)
|No. Item Description||Amount|
|1. Mobilization (5%)||$166,950|
|2. Maintenance of Traffic (3%)||$100,170|
|3. Main Span Bridge SF $800 3,400||$850,000|
|4. Elevators EA $350,000 2||$700,000|
|6. Sidewalks and Site Work||$300,000|
|7. Landscaping LS||$200,000|
Now Johnson plans to task engineers with retrieving cost estimates for materials in an effort to show Council an estimated price tag that is as close to real as possible. He also noted that if the city decides to move forward with the project some land acquisition on the side of The Forum on Peachtree Parkway may be required.
If the project does move forward, he added that it would most likely be a year until the city would bid the project out and a year for construction. The project is eligible to be funded with TSPLOST dollars but the city does have $8 million earmarked in its 2019 and 2020 financial plans for pedestrian safety improvements, which could or could not include a bridge.
In terms of Council members’ opinions on the project, Alex Wright Post 3 had this to say in an email newsletter. “Mr. Johnson and team have done a good job coming up with a much simpler and less expensive design. With the recent purchase of the Cheeley property ($7M), which was not part of our five year spending plan, I do have some concerns about our current levels of debt (we are right at the upper limit of our debt to income ratios we imposed on ourselves) and I would like to look at ways to quickly pay off the Cheeley debt before moving forward with a potential Bridge so that we have more flexibility in the future to deal with any other unknown situations that might arise.”
At the Jan. 16 meeting, Jeanne Aulbach Post 4 commented on the new design and renderings saying, “I think it reflects our history. It also think it reflects our future and our present.”
When reached for comment, Lorri Christopher Post 5, added, “The new bridge is attractive and functional, in my opinion. It also fits the past and present character of our community while also being a design that fits the future. More importantly, a safe crossing at that location will be most beneficial to people living, working and playing in our community. It is also a more affordable bridge. I also concur that a second crossing is needed as noted in our comprehensive plan for the Holcomb Bridge Road crossing in the future.“