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Is 'Grand Boulevard' Vision For Northside Drive Realistic?

As with Boulevard to the east, prognosticators have long envisioned Northside Drive on the western flank of intown Atlanta as a grand thoroughfare that could more adequately connect two busy interstates while nurturing communities with commerce. Ultimately, though, the five-mile stretch of Northside Drive from Interstate 75 south to I-20 remains what one Georgia Tech professor has called a "ragtag" jumble of traffic lanes and businesses. But a heaping helping of investment in the area has the potential to alter the roadway's plight for the better. According to the Saporta Report, a new Georgia Tech study tabulates that at least $2 billion in potential investment is slated near Northside Drive. Researchers posit that the changes should catalyze city officials and landowners to morph the thoroughfare into a more efficient transit option and "grand boulevard." After all, it's dotted with points of interest, including Atlantic Station, Georgia Tech, (potentially) a new Falcons stadium, the Atlanta University Center and West End.

The $2 billion investment figure is the low-ball sum for the new Falcons Stadium and the planned Georgia MultiModal Passenger Terminal, a transit hub and mini-city slated to partially fill Atlanta's "Gulch" near MARTA's Five Points Station. The figure doesn't include investment in a 6.7-acre, vacant site that fronts Northside Drive near Ikea, the website notes.

The 43-page Georgia Tech report takes a broad view of the corridor and then focuses in on specific communities. Some topics include intriguing ideas that could spruce up the area and enhance its residential appeal:

· Consider greater park use of the city's reservoir, mindful of security considerations;

· Improve east-west connectivity with Howell Mill Road, which is to supersede Northside Drive as a route for pedestrians and bicyclists.

· Promote residential and commercial development on vacant land and establish a street grid to improve east-west connectivity.

The Saporta Report offers a dose of reality in noting the Tech study is hardly the first of its kind for Northside Drive, but suggests that this time could be different: "Taken together, all these investments stand to make Tech's Northside Drive study more viable than its predecessors ... It does have timing on its side."

[Top Northside Drive photo:]

· Northside Drive: $2 billion in planned development may spur road's renewal [Saporta Report]
· Students crafting vision for Northside Drive [Atlanta Business Chronicle]