Business owners voice concerns about proposed Lafayette Road designs

Business owners voice concerns about proposed Lafayette Road designs

August 19th, 2018 by Myron Madden in Local Regional News

January 06, 2014 A sign sits off LaFayette Rd. directing motorists to the Chickamauga Battlefield on Monday in LaFayette, Ga. A $2 million grant has been obtained to improve LaFayette Road leading to the Chickamauga Battlefield.

January 06, 2014 A sign sits off LaFayette Rd....

Photo by Maura Friedman /Times Free Press.

State and city planners have revealed their latest proposed designs for Fort Oglethorpe's long-awaited streetscape improvements to Lafayette Road, which they hope will breathe new life into the corridor. But not everyone is happy with the proposed layout.

Some business owners along the 1-mile corridor, which stretches from Harker Road to Battlefield Parkway, are worried the raised medians in the proposal will weaken their customer base.

The medians, which are proposed as landscaped islands along the middle of the road to separate opposing lanes of traffic, are meant to increase safety and efficiency along the corridor by restricting drivers' left-turn movement to specific openings, preventing commuters from attempting left turns in the middle of city blocks, which can cause accidents in areas of high traffic volume, said Cedric Clark, project manager at the Georgia Department of Transportation.

But Matt Acklen, owner of BBQ Shack, said he's worried the medians will make it difficult for northbound drivers coming from Chickamauga, LaFayette and Fairview to turn onto his property, causing him to lose potential customers.

"If it's too hard [for drivers] to get in and out of a business, the next time they come, they're going to say, 'Why did we come back here? You can't get in and out! We can go somewhere else and get barbecue,'" Acklen said.

Planners said the concerns are not unexpected.

"Businesses always have issue with [raised medians], because obviously it blocks customers from the property," said Charlie Lanz, project manager at Atlanta design firm Arcadis. "But the end goal is that this project brings some life back to the corridor and encourages economic development."

Fort Oglethorpe Councilwoman Paula Stinnett said she has already heard concerns from owners of Park Place Restaurant, which shares a parking lot with Battlefield Bicycles and Save-A-Lot, as well as from St. Gerard Catholic Church about the medians blocking their entrances and exits. She said she hopes the feedback will lead to mutually beneficial solutions.

"The proposal is going to bring a revitalization to this area, without a doubt but within that revitalization, we've also got to honor the owners of the property, the businesses, and make sure we don't do anything to restrict trade," Stinnett said.

The latest designs also include several highly anticipated features, such as shared bicycle lanes for those cycling in and out of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park; a 5-foot-wide sidewalk; and a 5.5-foot landscape strip between the curb and the sidewalk consisting of trees, shrubbery and mulching.

Plans show several pedestrian amenities to be located on the landscape strip, such as benches, trash receptacles and pedestrian lighting.

Also included in the proposal are decorative crosswalks made of red concrete with a stamped brick pattern, as well as High Intensity Activated Crosswalk Systems which use flashing yellow traffic lights to warn drivers to slow down and then stop when pedestrians waiting to cross push a designated button.

Jeff Epperson, chairman of the city's Downtown Development Authority, said the goal of the project is to beautify the corridor and make it a place passersby want to slow down and explore.

"With new sidewalks and new walking areas, it's just a friendlier pedestrian style," Epperson said. "We hope that it makes the people walk the area more, spend more time in the area, shop in the area, spend money in the area."

In keeping with the goal of slowing the pace, the speed limit along the road also will be reduced from 45 to 35 mph, planners said.

"This is the beginnings of what we hope will become our downtown area of Fort Oglethorpe and the entrance to the park," Epperson said.

The project comes as the result of a nearly $3 million federal grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission awarded in 2014.

The grant does not require a match, but the city has committed to paying for any expenses that fall outside the $3 million allowance. So far, Fort Oglethorpe officials have spent about $90,000 in city SPLOST funding to acquire the needed driveway easements, said City Manager Jennifer Payne-Simpkins. Funds from the voter-approved 1-cent sales tax are specially earmarked for transportation and infrastructure projects.

The streetscaping project was originally expected to go to bid this October, but the bid process has since been delayed to October 2019 due to the city's need to acquire 53 driveway easements for the project before moving forward, she said.

Once the process begins, the construction period is expected to last 12 months, Clark said, making the current anticipated date of completion 2020.

Contact staff writer Myron Madden at mmadden@timesfreepress.com.