A stretch of road less than a quarter-mile long next to the Georgia state Capitol dominated two hours of discussion among the Atlanta City Council Monday.
The council passed the measure authorizing the city to give the state control of a portion of Mitchell Street between the Coverdell Legislative Office Building and the State Capitol. Georgia lawmakers have wanted to close the block to car traffic for years, citing safety and security concerns.
In return for getting the street, the ordinance says the state has agreed to “cooperate with the city” on safety improvements for Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, a busy state route on the Westside that has seen a high number of pedestrian deaths in recent years.
During the meeting, other council members tacked on additional requests for negotiations with the Georgia Department of Transportation, including safety upgrades to Metropolitan Parkway and bus rapid transit near the Capitol.
A GDOT spokeswoman, however, said a project to improve safety on Hollowell is already in the works.
But the ordinance does not include details regarding what the state reportedly agreed to do, or how much funding it might commit to improvements on Hollowell.
Rashad Taylor, a senior advisor to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, told the council during the meeting that Bottoms’ office is opposed to the measure. They are unaware of any formal negotiations between the city and state on the issue, he said.
“We’ve seen nothing in writing,” Taylor said. “We’ve spoken to and reached out to state agency leaders just this morning regarding the rumors and the words that we have heard regarding what this quid pro quo or this swap or whatever this deal is supposed to be.”
State officials told the mayor’s office that any safety upgrades related to Hollowell are unrelated to the city handing over this portion of Mitchell Street, Taylor said.
The city’s charter dictates that the mayor’s powers include representing the city in intergovernmental affairs and negotiations.
Councilman Michael Julian Bond, who co-sponsored the legislation, said the council got involved “out of necessity and frustration.” He added: “Constituents don’t often have patience or recognize the nuances between government, what they know is that they pay taxes and they want a response.”
Bond said Hollowell has been dangerous since he was first learning to drive on his way to Frederick Douglass High School. He expects GDOT to turn one of the traffic lanes into a center turn lane, create four new crosswalks with flashing lights and improve sidewalks, at a cost of roughly $6 million.
Currently, the city has blocked off the short stretch of Mitchell Street between the Capitol and Coverdell building to cars and trucks during the legislative session due in part to security concerns.
State lawmakers have wanted to permanently close down the street for years. A homeland security report from 2005 sought to secure the street, a state representative told the AJC in 2018. That year, lawmakers passed a resolution calling for the street to be permanently closed to vehicles.
Taylor said shutting down the street permanently could have negative impacts on traffic, including a MARTA bus route that goes down Mitchell Street.
Three state lawmakers also wrote a letter to the city Monday outlining their opposition to the proposal.
“There have been no attempts to determine the fair market value of this property and there has been no opportunity for public input,” the letter states. It was signed by Democratic Reps. David Dreyer, Matthew Wilson and Betsy Holland, who chairs the Atlanta delegation in the state House.
State Rep. Mesha Mainor, who represents a portion of Hollowell, came out in support of the deal Monday.
During the other couple hours of the meeting not dedicated to the street issue, council members: approved a $280,000 memorial wall to honor the victims of the Atlanta Child Murders and asked chief judges of the Superior Courts of Fulton and DeKalb counties to report how they’ve adapted their court operations to COVID-19.