Coronavirus and north Fulton cities’ costly pet projects

Artist’s rendering depicts a multi-lane roundabout that is part of Roswell’s Historic Gateway plan for Atlanta Street (Ga. 9). CITY OF ROSWELL

Combined ShapeCaption
Artist’s rendering depicts a multi-lane roundabout that is part of Roswell’s Historic Gateway plan for Atlanta Street (Ga. 9). CITY OF ROSWELL

Avalon and downtown Alpharetta are Jackie Pecot’s go-to destinations for shopping and walking. The hair stylist recently thought she might have another favorite place to explore when she discovered a new community trail near Avalon.

“I used to go to trails and when I saw that one, I said, ‘I need to get back to that,’” Pecot said.

The path that Pecot saw is one leg of the city’s much-anticipated Alpha Loop trail. While city officials couldn’t be reached for a comment on the future of the trail, a budget proposal given to the city council did not include $9 million needed for its construction.

The business shutdown caused by the pandemic has been a strain on city budgets causing Alpharetta, Roswell and Sandy Springs to have to figure out how to move forward with costly projects. The city officials project a 10-12% drop in revenue when they factor in the effects of the pandemic.

Roswell and Sandy Springs have similar pet projects that need continued city income: a Hammond Drive widening that Sandy Springs has already begun to buy land for, and Roswell's design work for the road project dubbed the Atlanta Street Historic Gateway.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said the city has multiple plans to address the long-term impact of coronavirus. The city could be forced to cut its operating budget by as much as 25%.

The city’s plan to widen Hammond Drive would relieve congestion on the narrow corridor from Roswell Road to Glenridge Drive. Designs for the widening include an additional lane in each direction, sidewalks and greenspace. There would also be more turn lanes at the Roswell Road and Glenridge Drive intersection.

Pamela Smith has operated her commercial real estate business on the other end of Hammond at Lake Forrest Drive for 10 years and regularly drives through the neighborhood where the road widening would take place. Smith said the project would do more than ease traffic flow. It would bring even more development to Sandy Springs, she said.

“It’s going to add a whole new flavor and increased interest from developers,” Smith said. “As long as we are in this paused economy, I don’t think anything is going to happen. When things get back to normal, I think there will be a huge federal investment in infrastructure.”

The $60 million Hammond Drive project, partially funded by a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) was not discussed in Sandy Springs’ early budget workshops but could be in a budget presentation to Sandy Springs City Council on Tuesday. The city’s current budget estimate shows $88.9 million in revenue for fiscal year 2021 — nearly $9.5 million less than 2020.

Similar road needs are being weighed in Roswell. There, the Atlanta Street Historic Gateway project is a top priority for safety improvements on an often dangerous reversible lane road, said Transportation Director Muhammad Rauf, during a budget session Tuesday. “It’s the biggest safety issue in the city,” he added.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is funding 80% of the nearly $50 million project, but the city needs to spend $2.5 million to finish designing the project to widen Atlanta Street to four lanes with multi-use trails, medians and more than 200 trees. Rauf said the city must move forward with the design to be on schedule for the start of construction in 2023.

For the coming fiscal year, the city is expecting $75 million in revenue compared to $84.7 million the city expected before the pandemic.

Credit: Schaefer

Credit: Schaefer

All three north Fulton cities are still reviewing the numbers and finalizing their budgets for the next fiscal year.

For Alpharetta, the popular Alpha Loop plan has been a priority for city leaders, but the loop could be a casualty of the pandemic in the near term.

Once finished, the 8-mile trail will connect Avalon, downtown city center and Northwinds Summit on Haynes Bridge Road.

The city partnered with Georgia Tech students tasking them with coming up with a vision for public art, work stations, and social activities along the trail. But when the students presented their vision at the City Council meeting on May 4, a draft of the budget showed the loop would not be funded.

Pecot and other fans of the Alpha Loop say that, for now, they look forward to the first section opening.

“I love it and we need more,” Pecot said.

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