Atlanta Forward: Transportation

The Perimeter area of north Atlanta along I-285 is facing an influx of major projects. State Farm is expanding its campus in Dunwoody. To the west, in the Cumberland area of Cobb County, the Braves are moving to a new stadium. New transportation solutions will be needed to handle increased traffic, or the area will choke on congestion. We asked the president of the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts and the mayor of Dunwoody to shed light on what’s being done, and their ideas for the future .

Investment in mobility helps us grow

By Yvonne Williams
The Perimeter market is one of the fastest-growing in metro Atlanta. Thousands of companies, from small businesses to Fortune 500 firms, call Perimeter home, with new announcements coming every day.
It is no surprise this is where employers want to locate. Perimeter’s leadership continues to focus on improving the quality of life, providing amenities and transforming this market from a suburban car-dependent area into a livable, walkable community.
Through the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts (PCIDs), commercial property owners in a defined 4.2-square-mile area in the core of the Central Perimeter Market voluntarily pay additional property taxes to improve access and mobility.
The PCIDs champion infrastructure improvements such as gateways, streetscapes, green space and maintenance of landscaped medians of major thoroughfares. This helps present an attractive brand and cohesive sense of place for the Perimeter Market. Businesses like UPS, Newell Rubbermaid and State Farm are relocating and expanding here, adding thousands of jobs to the area and population growth.
But providing the transportation improvements necessary to businesses and employees continues to be a challenge.
Located within the PCIDs boundaries, the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange is a critical transportation component of one of the Southeast’s largest office markets and employment centers. Serious traffic congestion at this interchange has a major impact on the Perimeter and surrounding areas and their ability to retain and attract jobs. Gov. Nathan Deal’s announcement, committing more than $210 million in improvements, is a defining moment in the economic and social future of the region and the state because this area is one of metro Atlanta’s most populated and most heavily congested corridors.
The interchange improvements represent the first piece of needed transportation infrastructure and quality-of-life enhancement. This project anchors the top end of I-285, pulling together multiple employment centers including Cumberland, Doraville, Cobb County, north Fulton County, Buckhead and others.
Perimeter has seen firsthand the importance of planning for future development.
Through the “Fast Forward” initiative of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, the Perimeter Center Parkway “Flyover Bridge” was constructed in 2008. Today, it connects Perimeter’s $3.04 billion medical center to the second-largest shopping mall in the state, alleviates traffic throughout the district, and has attracted major corporate investments in the new city of Brookhaven — including future development at Perimeter Summit and the new Hyatt Atlanta Perimeter hotel at Villa Christina.
Gov. Deal has stated that among his priorities are maintaining Georgia’s economic competitiveness and remaining focused on growing jobs. Infrastructure improvements that address congestion and safety while making it easier to move the goods and services necessary to corporations are key to achieving those goals.
By placing an emphasis on partnership, the Georgia Department of Transportation and the PCIDs are saving taxpayer money and time through management of resources and innovatively packaged improvements.
Now more than ever, it is critical we continue to prepare not only for immediate growth, but for future growth in the Perimeter area and across the top end. We must remain at the table with our partners throughout metro Atlanta, on both sides of the aisle, to seek support, utilize resources and deliver results to improve the quality of life for Georgians across the region and the state.
The PCIDs resolve to partner with the Georgia Transportation Alliance and other agencies like the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, State Road and Tollway Authority, MARTA and the Atlanta Regional Commission to seek funding opportunities through our state Legislature.
We are excited to continue to gain momentum to keep our state’s competitive edge by investing in infrastructure to get Georgians to work.

Yvonne Williams is president and CEO of the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts.

Teamwork key to traffic solutions

By Mike Davis
Monday through Friday, approximately 100,000 employees and commuters enter the Dunwoody and Perimeter area for work in the morning and depart for home in the evening, essentially doubling the population of our city and business center every weekday.
Over the past year, my staff and I have conducted more than 130 business retention meetings where we met with CEOs and leaders of Dunwoody companies. New businesses, hotels, restaurants and retailers are vying for space all over the city because they know Dunwoody has a business-friendly environment with easy access to major interstates and MARTA.
Unfortunately, traffic continues to be the top concern for most of those executives.
Without active efforts to provide diverse mobility solutions, we risk setting ourselves up for increased congestion, a stumbling block to our continued growth. The conversation has to move beyond who’s responsible, the “right time,” and grumblings about change for the sake of convenience. We must realize our regional and national competitiveness is at stake unless we move forward to provide efficient transportation and mobility systems.
On a local level, we have an obligation to protect our single-family homeowners who moved to Dunwoody for its high quality of life and amenities. Our city’s success and development is a boon to home valuations; but are the benefits coming at a cost to convenience and connectivity?
In Dunwoody, we’ve taken small steps to improve traffic conditions by participating in key initiatives, such as the Perimeter Transportation Operations Program (PTOP). The program was completed in 2013 and helped alleviate some traffic strain by synchronizing traffic signals during evening peak rush hours at 46 intersections in Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Brookhaven.
We’ve also worked hard with the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts (PCIDs) and neighboring municipalities to create pedestrian connectivity within the Perimeter area. To that end, Dunwoody activated a multi-use trail network, which we anticipate one day to stretch more than five miles, connecting the Perimeter area with the Georgetown district, Brook Run Park on the east side and beyond.
At the same time, businesses are seeking to attract a new generation of employees who favor accessibility, walkability and transit options. Multi-modal options for citizens and workers will be critical assets as we move from suburban community centers to more urban hubs of commerce and livability. Implementing smart mobility solutions will also help increase our property values, attract new employers and add jobs.
That message was reinforced by State Farm, which recently broke ground on its new mixed-use project of more than 2 million square feet in the Dunwoody/Perimeter area. Gov. Nathan Deal also echoed the commitment to the area in plans to reconstruct the interchange of I-285 and Ga. 400. MARTA CEO Keith Parker has also joined the effort by spearheading investment in such stations as Dunwoody and Doraville.
New projects and investments are taking shape along I-285 to the west in Cobb County with the new Atlanta Braves stadium complex, and to the east in Doraville where developers are putting together ideas for the 167-acre former General Motors plant.
It’s exciting that both projects are intended to create large, mixed-use developments with connections to mass transit and the interstate. At the same time, we all need to work together to develop long-term solutions to traffic challenges along the top end of I-285 between I-75 and I-85.
Paired with the Dunwoody and Perimeter-area hub and the I-285/Ga. 400 upgrades, these improvements could be considered a development trifecta — a trio of large, multi-faceted developments coming out of the ground at the same time, something we’ve not witnessed before in the northern suburban market.
I invite the elected leaders of Dunwoody’s neighboring municipalities, along with the leaders of the PCIDs, to join us to craft innovative transportation solutions to improve our congested roads. Solutions could include a circulator system, multi-use trails, bike lanes, bus and rapid transit, managed lanes and improved express bus services.
Developing and implementing localized mobility solutions that tackle traffic congestion and promote improved regional transportation is  paramount. These solutions need to be arrived at jointly, agreed upon cohesively and put in place soon, or we will miss the opportunity to make a difference in transportation and mobility solutions outside the Perimeter and beyond.

Mike Davis is mayor of Dunwoody.

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