On Aug. 7, the public was invited to Fort Oglethorpe City Hall to view the latest plans for Lafayette Road, a project being funded by a $3 million grant from the federal Appalachian Regional Commission.
The grant was approved in 2014 after a three-year effort on the part of a group of volunteers that included city officials, the Downtown Development Authority and residents. The grant is to be administered by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT).
Over the past four years, GDOT and the city have introduced a variety of plans to the public, including ones that showed kiosks of trees and shrubbery up and down the road.
The latest and intended final plan was met Tuesday night, Aug. 7, with some serious concerns from Lafayette Road business and property owners. A number of people commented that they had never seen it before.
The plan involves placing a median strip down the center of the road, changing the width of lanes, adding bicycle lanes and 5-foot-wide sidewalks, and making sure all entry points from the road to parking lots meet with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
Much of the plan is similar to past plans, but it does not include any plants or greenery – that would be a subsequent and local project, as would things like special lighting, benches and other amenities. GDOT says conduit will be put in place for the possibility of underground utilities in the future.
But the median was the point of contention. Owners of at least seven businesses showed up to express concerns or outright anger with the way the median would impact how vehicles could or couldn’t get into their shops. Others who would be impacted did not or could not attend. One business owner who did not attend said he didn’t think his opinion would make any difference in the final outcome.
Debbie Wilson owns a number of properties on Lafayette Road, including the building that houses Subway. Wilson pointed out to GDOT officials at the meeting that due to the median and the fact that no U-turns would be allowed under the new plan, northbound travelers would have no access at all to the restaurant.
GDOT officials suggested to Wilson that travelers could pass the store, turn left onto Gilbert Drive, which runs by Krystal, then left again onto Old Lafayette Road and access the restaurant from behind, but Wilson said there is no back access to the restaurant.
Parrish Walker of Walker’s Oak & More on Lafayette Road pointed out that southbound traffic would be blocked from turning left into his business and that he would also be blocked from turning in with the 36-foot trailer he uses to bring in merchandise and would have to maneuver his trailer somewhere else along the route to get it turned around and heading in the other direction. GDOT officials suggested he and customers could turn right onto White Street, which is across from his store, and follow it around and behind several businesses, including Sears’s Shoe Store, turn left onto West Forrest Road then take another left at the light onto Lafayette Road so they would be heading northbound and could make a right into Walker’s parking lot.
Another business that would be affected by the planned medians is Sav-A-Lot, whose south-bound customers would be able to access the grocery store only from the entrance next to Long John Silver, requiring that they travel across the parking lot shared with Park Place Restaurant and Battlefield Bicycles, or by turning left onto Forrest Road and right onto Martin Road, a nar-row street that runs behind Sav-A-Lot. The two Lafayette Road entrances leading directly into Sav-A-Lot’s parking lot would not be accessible to southbound travelers.
BBQ Shack customers coming from the south end of the street would not be able to turn left into the business. They would have to travel a block past the business and turn around in a parking lot or go a little farther and get turned around at the light at Forrest Road. The same applies to the business locations on either side of BBQ Shack.
Southbound customers of The History Company, located next to Sav-A-Lot, in the former McDonald’s building, would not be able to turn left into the business’s parking lot. They could pass the business and turn around in the parking lot of St. Gerard’s Catholic Church on the east side of the street, or try turning around in some of the small parking lots along the west side of Lafayette Road. Or they could turn left onto Forrest Road and, as with Sav-A-Lot, access the business from behind.
St. Gerard’s Catholic Church would still have access from both directions, but not the full access parishioners now have.
Customers of businesses could also be forced to turn in a direction opposite of how they want-ed to go when leaving businesses. Unlike Battlefield Parkway, there would be no place drivers could make U-turns in order to change their direction. GDOT said that with four lanes and the median, U-turns would be unsafe.
Business owners also expressed concern about the impact the road plan would have on new businesses and the tourism-related businesses that might wish to locate on the street.
Cedric Clark, a project manager for Southeastern Engineering and a consultant to GDOT, said they have fashioned many similar plans without any negative impact on businesses. He said that they track the impact on businesses and have never encountered a place that lost customers or went out of business because of a road plan like the one developed for Lafayette Road.
Clark said the road is being fashioned based on a 20-year plan. He said the object of the project is safety, taking into consideration the volume of traffic and traffic patterns that are expected to develop over the next two decades.
The public was invited to offer comments on this most recent version of the project, which is slated to be opened to bidding in October 2019. Construction, says Downtown Development Authority Director Jeff Epperson, should take about 12 months once it begins.
Atkins Global environmental planner Amanda von Oldenburg, who was part of the presenting team at the meeting, said that all comments will be responded to.