Atlanta’s first transportation office estimated to cost $2M to set up

Atlanta Post 3 At Large Councilmember Andre Dickens had the idea to create a new transportation department a couple of years ago.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Atlanta Post 3 At Large Councilmember Andre Dickens had the idea to create a new transportation department a couple of years ago.

Atlanta councilmembers are working to decide how to set up the city’s first department of transportation — a plan that is expected to cost about $2 million to establish and will allow better coordination between road planning, repair and investments in transportation.

Two ordinances have been proposed to establish the new department so a works session will be held to discuss them.

Both ordinances —filed by Councilmembers Joyce Sheperd and Andre Dickens — consist of the same framework and function. The sole difference is Sheperd’s ordinance, which was filed first, asks the department to oversee funding.

Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the department at her state of the city address on March 14. She said the new department would coordinate with the public works department, which repairs the city’s roads; the planning department, which designs them; and Renew Atlanta, which makes long-term investments in the city’s transportation infrastructure.

Keisha Lance Bottoms, Mayor of Atlanta, speaks at the State Of The City Business Breakfast at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on Tuesday March 14th, 2019. (Photo by Phil Skinner)

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Dickens said initial costs for the department will be under $1 million for the first year and is included in the city’s 2020 budget. The department will consist of three offices that focus on planning, maintenance and projects and three to five employees to run the department in its initial stages. The entire department could take up to two years to kickstart, costing $2 million overall.

Following a study two years ago on creating the new department, Dickens, community members, and city officials mapped out how it might look.

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The first hires for the new department “will set the strategy and vision for the department,” Dickens said. This includes how the department will transition from Renew Atlanta and the city’s planning and public works departments.

The department’s first six months will focus on coordination, planning and determining essential hires, Dickens said. More staff could come as soon as 2020.

“This is very precise and careful work because have to get it right,” Dickens said.

Dickens said the annual cost to operate the city's new department isn't clear, but that he expects some overall savings for the city. It's also not clear how many employees will be needed in the department, but he said some existing city employees may be transferred into the new department.

The idea to create a new transportation department was proposed by Dickens a couple of years ago. At the time, Dickens filed legislation for a study to determine if creating the department was feasible. Three weeks after it passed, the I-85 bridge collapse left drivers at a halt on the interstate and some concerned about Atlanta’s infrastructure.

While the bridge collapse didn’t influence his decision, it did “further crystallize my idea for how to coordinate with GDOT,” Dickens said. The Georgia Department of Transportation handles state roads and bridges.

Fire in the hole (March 30, 2017): A section of I-85 north collapsed when materials stored beneath it caught fire. The clean-up and reconstruction lasted until May 15 and closed off the interstate and Piedmont Road. (BOB ANDRES  /BANDRES@AJC.COM)

Credit: Bob Andres

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Credit: Bob Andres

“They would have one body to communicate with the city when similar issues happen,” Dickens said.

Dickens said he wasn’t sure why there were two ordinances to create the new department, but he said he hopes the April 22 work session will resolve the issue. Sheperd did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At Wednesday’s transportation committee meeting, Dickens touted his legislation and acknowledged the work city officials did to spearhead the creation of a department.

The original study, conducted in 2018 by engineering firm WSP, examined cities such as Baltimore, Dallas, and Seattle who already have a transportation department in place.

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