Jul 6, 2022 - News

DeKalb Ave. awfulness, explained

Krog Street and DeKalb intersection
Photo: Emma Hurt/Axios

It's something we can all agree on: DeKalb Avenue needs work. A lot of work.

Driving the news: After years of complaints, meetings, promises, a "DeKalb Ave Sucks" Reddit thread and even a Change.org petition, city officials insist things really are going to change for the east-west thoroughfare that runs from Decatur into downtown Atlanta.

  • "There currently is no record of when this roadway was last resurfaced," the city's department of transportation told Axios Atlanta in a statement.

What's happening: A "safety improvements" project along DeKalb Avenue/Decatur Street from Jackson Street to Ridgecrest Road is on schedule to finish by September 2023, deputy transportation commissioner Jessica Fulton told Axios.

  • That $5.4 million project includes sidewalk improvements, road resurfacing, replacement of the reversible lane with left turn lanes, traffic signal coordination and some bike lanes. Officials are also adding 40 LED lights in the Krog Street tunnel.
  • "We just ask that all the residents and businesses travel through the area safely and practice patience with us as we work to deliver these projects," Fulton said.

Zoom in: The Department of Watershed Management has its own projects underway to improve drainage in and around the flood-prone Krog Street tunnel. Those improvements will not delay work on the craggy road, the city has said.

  • Flooding there has "become more of an issue just because of the popularity of the area now," Reginald Wells, assistant commissioner at the watershed management department, told Axios. "Whereas ordinarily people didn't really complain much, it’s a real attraction spot now."

Catch up quick: Voters first approved funding for DeKalb as part of the Renew Atlanta bond back in 2015. The pitch to remove the street's reversible lane dates back (at least) to a 1990 Candler Park DeKalb Avenue corridor study.

  • But after many delays, construction on sidewalk improvements didn't start until last fall.

Why is it so awful? There are many reasons why roads deteriorate, including weather and accidents, the city told Axios. But one that particularly plagues DeKalb, Wells said, is related to the utilities lying beneath it.

  • "There's a tremendous amount of utility cuts along the roadway," he said. "There always have been. Every time you're cutting the roadway for fiber optic, cable, Atlanta Gas Light, water main breaks" it leaves the street more vulnerable to potholes.
  • But, it's "more heavy traffic than anything," he added. In 2019 the city estimated 10,000-20,000 vehicles traveled the road per day.

Reality check: In a 2019 citywide street paving assessment, the worst part of DeKalb, near Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, was rated "poor." But several other streets of similar length rank even lower.

What's next: In April the city projected within 30 days that crews would begin removing the reversible lane and re-striping the street.

  • "Although construction activity may not be visible at a project site, ATLDOT and its contractors are working continuously on the DeKalb Avenue Safety Improvement project throughout the construction phase," said a department of transportation spokesman in a statement to Axios.

What we're watching: The city split off a "complete streets" phase 2 of work on DeKalb, focused on improving bicycle and pedestrian experiences on the road. It's in the design phase, but $15 million was budgeted for phase 2 in the recently passed 2022 TSPLOST project list.

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