The $20.1 million project will put a landscaped median and multi-use trail on a 1.25 mile stretch of Concord Road between South Cobb Drive and Atlanta Road. One of the most discussed topics at the meeting, which drew around 150 people to Brawner Hall, was how traffic turning off Lee and Dunn streets will be prevented from making a left turn onto Concord Road.
Lee and Dunn streets intersect with Concord Road to the south, just west of Atlanta Road. Under the planned safety improvements, the concrete median would go in where there is currently a center turn lane, meaning that drivers can only turn right onto or off of Lee and Dunn streets.
That means that in order to go west on Concord Road, drivers would either have to turn right on Concord Road and then make a U-turn at Atlanta Road or go south to Daniell Drive and then turn right on King Springs Road, then go back north to Concord Road to go west.
Several speakers said that, instead of seeing the intersection blocked, they would like to see a traffic signal installed.
While that won’t happen, the city is changing its plans as a result of the concerns expressed. Smyrna City Councilman Charles Welch, who represents the area south of Concord Road, said the city will now put a protected U-turn for left-turning vehicles on Concord Road at Atlanta Road. He said this will mean that southbound traffic on Atlanta Road will be prohibited from turning right onto Concord Road for a time to allow cars on Concord Road to make a U-turn.
Welch said that engineers have advised against breaking up the median for turns on Lee and Dunn streets.
“We understand the concerns of the neighbors, but there’s still an aspect of safety that we have to take the recommendations of our experts,” he said. “If we don’t do that, I feel we’re not accommodating the best interests of the city as a whole.”
In addition, suggestions at the meeting have led the city to consider placing a sidewalk on Collier Drive south of Concord Road, provided that residents of the street are willing to give up part of their yards at market value, Welch said.
The city will also look at installing speed humps on some of the streets around Concord Road, Welch said.
On Wednesday, public safety officials also addressed possible response time delays caused by the new median. Fire Chief Jason Lanyon said the change will increase the trip for firefighters responding to a call on Lee Street by about a quarter mile.
“There are two fire stations within a mile and a half,” Lanyon said. “That makes this really not a public safety issue.”
Most of the Concord Road project’s $8.5 million construction budget and $2.1 million engineering budget is coming from the 2011 SPLOST, while most of the $9.3 million in right-of-way acquisitions came from the 2005 SPLOST. City Councilman Wade Lnenicka said the 2005 1-percent sales tax vote was initially intended to fund the entire project, but much of that dried up when the economy went south.
Delays from Georgia Power are currently keeping utility relocation from starting, but officials hope to start on construction by spring 2013. From there, City Engineer Keith Williams said it should take about two years to complete, with construction taking place in three phases, starting from west to east. The first phase will go from South Cobb Drive to Evelyn Street, Phase 2 will cover Evelyn Street to King Springs Road and the final phase will go from King Springs Road to Atlanta Road.
Williams said the improvements would make Concord Road safer, particularly in reducing head-on collisions. In 2009, the most recent year statistics were available, the stretch of Concord Road that will be under construction had an accident rate 46 percent higher than the statewide average. In 2007, the stretch had an accident rate 97 percent higher than the statewide average.
Some in the audience Wednesday said the entire project was a waste of money. Resident Mary Kirkendoll even accused the city of intentionally failing to make simple improvements to Concord Road, such as new street signs, in order to increase accidents and justify the larger project.
“This is a $20 million slush fund,” she said, drawing groans from the audience. “There are no businesses coming to Smyrna — that should be the top priority.”
Lnenicka said the meetings are important in order to hear all viewpoints.
“I think it was a great meeting for informing the public about the project and answering their questions and concerns,” he said.