Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Relocating a highway can potentially refresh a downtown

By Evan Roberston, Senior Project Associate
Op-Ed, reprinted from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

At any given moment, communities across metro Atlanta spend substantial sums on transportation infrastructure. Projects vary in size and scope, and include building and repairing roads and bridges, adding entrance and exit ramps, or updating and adding traffic lights.

For the vast majority of people, these investments go by relatively unnoticed. After a year or two, we only remember the inconvenience it caused during our morning or evening commute. We judge their success by how safe we feel on the road and how much less we sit in traffic.

Outside of improving the flow of cars and trucks, we metro Atlantans usually don’t ask more from these investments. There is little expectation that they will result in the wholesale transformation of our community. But every now and again, an infrastructure project comes along that presents local residents with the opportunity to change course and position their community for future success.

In Douglas County and the city of Douglasville, community stakeholders are hoping to seize the relocation of Georgia Highway 92 as such an opportunity. When the project is complete, Highway 92 will brush along the eastern outskirts of downtown Douglasville rather than running directly through it. While highway relocations have typically had damaging effects on downtowns across Georgia – the impact on Douglasville can be different.

At present, many traveling along this stretch of the highway corridor are simply trying to get home, or go to work. They are driving through Douglasville’s downtown, and not driving to it. Once the relocation project is complete, downtown Douglasville, unburdened by commuter traffic, can reassert itself as the soul of Douglas County and establish itself as a regional destination.

The task at hand for our GeorgiaForward Young Gamechangers team, aptly named “Destination Downtown,” was to develop a way forward for, and position downtown Douglasville for, success. It was clear that this process would require the hearts and minds of Douglasville and Douglas County residents to be persuaded that transformation is possible.

We believe the public and private space in downtown Douglasville is anything but inflexible. Our recommendations include engaging in a tactical campaign to spark an open and honest conversation of what its downtown could become both short-term and well into the future.

Our team came up with an encompassing set of big ideas to cement downtown Douglasville as a destination for residents and visitors alike. Our ideas range in scope from creating an inviting gateway corridor that will connect Highway 92 with the core commercial district, to engaging in a community-wide branding campaign culminating in a “grand reopening” event. Finally, catalyst developments promoting a live-work-play lifestyle in downtown Douglasville can help solidify its revitalization.

Metro Atlanta’s transportation investments don’t need to solely impact our mobility. Whatever the investment may be, infrastructure projects allow us to view our built environment in new light and afford us the opportunity to make our communities and the broader region a better place to live. For one metro Atlanta area community, the relocation of a highway has given it the chance to rejuvenate its heart.