Cure Coming for Atlanta’s 14th Street Bridge Traffic Ills

Fri April 24, 2009 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson



A congested major intersection in downtown Atlanta that has proven to be a headache for commuters and travelers throughout the area will soon be reconstructed. The reconstruction is now past its halfway point and heading toward the finish line.

Known as the 14th Street Bridge Improvement Project, the $88.5 million work was designed to alleviate traffic bottlenecks in the midtown. The project is set to be completely finished by May 31, 2010, although portions of the project will open at several points over the next several months.

The anchor point of the project is the replacement of the 14th Street Bridge itself, which spans 16 lanes of the Downtown Connector, a roadway that carries traffic from both Interstate 75 and Interstate 85, northbound and southbound, through the downtown. In addition, three smaller ramps funneling traffic on and off the Connector, as well as new access roads, are part of the overall plan.

The 14th Street Bridge project will provide much-needed relief to commuters who have had to endure traffic tie-ups in an area of Atlanta that has seen a great deal of development in recent years, said Crystal Paulk-Buchanan of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GADOT).

“It was a very overburdened interchange that wasn’t meeting the needs of traffic changes that had occurred over the previous years and this is part of an overall plan to improve that,” she explained.

There was nothing structurally deficient about the old bridge itself, as it was only built in 1984. But, Paulk-Buchanan said, a new bridge was needed in order to better fit within the new intersection redesign. There also will be a new ramp taking traffic from I-75/I-85 southbound to 10th Street, as well as a ramp going from I-75/I-85 northbound to 17th Street.

She characterizes the area adjacent to the 14th Street Bridge as a key linking point between Georgia Tech and the new Atlantic Station, a huge redevelopment of an old factory complex into condominiums, apartments, offices, shopping, restaurants and entertainment venues.

“Over the last 10 to 15 years, that area has seen an incredible economic resurgence with new offices and skyscrapers,” said Paulk-Buchanan, “so the 14th Street Bridge project, with its additional ramps, is one that has been eagerly awaited.”

The prime contractor is C.W. Matthews Contracting Company Inc., headquartered in Marietta, Ga., which came in as the project’s low bidder.

Work began in spring 2007, with most of the first year taken up with relocating the various utility lines that crossed the bridge. To facilitate that, crews from W.L. Hailey & Company, a Nashville, Tenn., construction firm, built a 6-ft. (1.8 m) diameter tunnel under the Downtown Connector to run those utilities across the interstate.

Although there has not been much grading work on the project, Paulk-Buchanan said that there is still a great deal of work going on in a relatively small area.

“In addition to building the bridge and building the new ramps, they have built a couple of access roads to match the height and length of the new bridge and to be able to incorporate the new ramps,” she said.

Just like the old bridge, the new 14th Street Bridge will not have direct access to the Downtown Connector, but will take traffic to the access roads that link with the interstate.

“What happened before was that in order to even get to 14th Street and to 10th Street from the Connector, you got off at an access road and stopped at a light at 14th Street, before continuing along the access road to get to 10th Street,” she explained. “Now, with the redesigned intersections, you will still be able to use the access road and turn onto 14th Street but you don’t have to do that to get to 10th Street. There was a service street bottleneck there and that is going to be eliminated.”

As might be expected, the construction of the 14th Street Bridge project has worsened the traffic problems in the area in the short term, while being facilitated to correct those problems long term.

A number of street and lane closures have been carried out over the last two years, with the most significant closures coming last September.

“We did something very unusual for the GADOT over last year’s Labor Day weekend in that we had crews out there working over the holiday,” Paulk-Buchanan explained. “They closed the interstate and removed a hump that had been in the roadway, along with doing some resurfacing and a realignment. Adding to the problem, too, was that it was a big college football weekend in the area.

“We actually rerouted traffic off the interstate and by doing so we got a lot of work done over three days that otherwise would have taken several weeks of weekend lane closures. But we instituted a public outreach campaign, where we recommended the use of I-285. That was after the whole spring and summer was taken up resurfacing the Connector through downtown as part of a separate project. It ended up being a long summer for motorists who traveled regularly through that area, but we told the public that we could have another 8 weeks of this or we could shut down the interstate and get it done in 3 days and the public bought into it.”

She added that other lane closures have occurred in order to move high-masted power poles in the area, as well as to set bridge beams. Other lane closures will be put into effect later in the year as resurfacing work continues.

The 14th Street Bridge itself, made of pre-cast concrete, is set to be completed in December. When it does open it will have two lanes heading east and two lanes heading west, with a dedicated turn lane in each direction. In addition, the bridge also will feature a raised landscaped median, as well as 15-ft. (4.6 m) wide sidewalks in each direction.

Those sidewalks will become increasingly busy as the new Atlantic Station community is expected to add up to 10,000 new residents to the area.

“That is why the GADOT felt that it needed to be a real pedestrian friendly bridge,” Paulk-Buchanan added.

About 60 people can be found working on the 14th Street Bridge project at any one time, said Peter Feininger, a senior vice president with C.W. Matthews.

A small amount of earthmoving was done on this project and C.W. Matthews used Caterpillar equipment to complete the task. The contractor buys its Cat machinery from Yancey Brothers Co. of Atlanta, Ga.

For the erection of the bridge and the ramps, Feininger said that a 200-ton (181 t) Link-Belt 248 lattice crawler crane is being used, plus a couple of 110-ton (99.8 t) 218s for general servicing of the bridge work. His company also is doing the pile driving using an ICE hammer in tandem with one of the Link-Belt 218 cranes.

Besides W.L. Hailey, the other major subcontractors on the project include F&W Construction of Ozark, Ala., which is handling the building of the permanently-anchored tie-back walls; Pittman Construction Company, an Atlanta paving firm; and Brooks-Berry-Haynie & Associates, of Mabelton, Ga., the project’s electrical contractor. CEG