The Atlanta metropolitan area is the ninth-largest metro in the U.S., and its growth rate consistently in the top five. That means infrastructure improvement is an ongoing necessity, and those planning and executing such improvements seemingly forever in catch-up mode.
This summer, the Transform 285/400 improvement Project and the Georgia Department of Transportation Major Mobility Investment Program both are aimed at reducing Atlanta’s notorious traffic congestion. Among high-profile infrastructure initiatives, they’re joined by the Atlanta Beltline Project, the Bellwood Quarry Reservoir and Green Space Project and the $6 billion overhaul of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, known as the ATL Next Project.
For a look at the unique challenges and opportunities of Atlanta-area infrastructure initiatives, it’s only natural to turn to a man with boots on the ground in the ATL, Jeremy Howard. A man with what might be called “concrete answers” to many infrastructure questions, Howard is vice president and general manager of Ready Mix USA-Atlanta, a CEMEX USA comapny.
Question: What are the challenges presented by these projects, and how are they overcome?
With construction booming and the low unemployment rate, finding skilled labor is the biggest issue facing the Atlanta construction community. For CEMEX, that skilled labor gap is CDL – Commercial Driver’s License – certified delivery professionals. In addition to drivers, we are seeing a general lack of trucking resources to transport raw materials, finished product and waste. This truck-and-driver issue generally leads to delay and raw material stock outs.
Question: What unique infrastructure challenges – from swift growth to that distinctive red clay soil to historic structures – are presented by Atlanta in general?
Growth is the primary challenge for Atlanta. Atlanta is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., and the growth is expanding the greater metropolitan population in all directions, especially to the north and west of the city. That growth is outpacing the infrastructure improvement efforts. [The area’s] clay-based soil does present a challenge to construction, but it isn’t a new challenge. One of the biggest issues we run into with clay-based soil is construction delays due to poor drainage. One day of decent rain can impact construction schedules by two to three days.
Question: Turning from challenges, is there anything about the area that particularly helps facilitate infrastructure improvement in Atlanta?
The cost of living in Atlanta, more specifically the communities outside the perimeter, is relatively affordable. While wages are competitive in the market, labor costs are generally less costly for these infrastructure improvements in comparison to many other major markets.
Also, Atlanta’s designation as the regional economic hub and access to materials and construction services makes it an easy place to do infrastructure work. With its temperate climate and inland location on an inactive fault zone, it is not subject to extreme climate concerns such as corrosion or earthquakes. This reduces the need to design more costly measures into the design of its infrastructure.
Question: Can you speak to challenges presented by projects in the following areas: Beltline, Hartsfield, historic downtown and Buckhead?
The Beltline is expanding and is expected to kick off the first segment of the Southside Trail later this year. Funding and coordination appear to be among challenges for Beltline projects.
It is also receiving mild resistance from some citizens in the communities where it passes through. Completed sections, however, appear to be attracting commercial development.
Challenges for the area around Hartsfield include attracting businesses such as restaurants, hotels and offices. College Park is working on the development of ATL Airport City, which is a mixed-use development on 420 acres west of the airport. [In historic downtown Atlanta], there is a very delicate balancing act between preservation and growth. And in Buckhead, challenges include congestion and high rent in office and residential spaces.
Question: What’s the next big infrastructure project for metropolitan Atlanta?
Centennial Yards is a $5 billion project, which consists of apartments, offices, retail and hotel space in 40 acres currently referred to as “The Gulch.” This piece of land sits on the south side of downtown and adjacent to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The area has been starved for investment and development for decades. It’s expected to become a major hub of commercial and residential activity. The project is currently in the early planning and design stages.