For years, famously diverse immigrant hub Clarkston—the so-called Ellis Island of the South—has doubled as a passthrough for bicyclists and runners on the PATH Trail that links downtown, Decatur, and Stone Mountain.
In more recent times, the DeKalb County city east of Decatur, at the cusp of Interstate 285, has been quietly angling to become a walkable, bikeable hub unto itself, with the intent of providing mobility for residents and showcasing its international attractions.
As of last week, those efforts have officially begun to pay off.
Clarkston officials hosted a groundbreaking Friday for a $6.5 million streetscape project that’s set to transform East Ponce de Leon Avenue from the I-285 interchange to Market Street, plus several other corridors within the city of roughly 13,000.
Expect changes both utilitarian and aesthetic, such as wider sidewalks, street lighting, gateway amenities, a new pedestrian bridge, buried utilities along Market Street, landscaping, a stormwater bio-swell, street arbors, new MARTA bus shelters, and more.
Since 2006, the city has been eligible for $4 million in federal funding via the Atlanta Regional Commission, and the Clarkston City Council green-lighted the process to begin acquiring matching funding in 2011.
“After nearly seven years of public information meetings, landscape and engineering design, and right-of-way acquisitions, the city is now ready to break ground on this project,” Keith Barker, Clarkston City Manager, said in a release last week.
Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry told Curbed Atlanta that—when combined with TSPLOST funding—the city is set for nearly $20 million in infrastructure improvements across the next three years, with 90 percent of those funds aimed at improving green spaces and walking and bicycling.
In-progress streetscape enhancements mean “Clarkston will become a more walkable and bikeable community, literally connecting residents and businesses from one side of the city to the other,” wrote the mayor in an email.
To make finances work, the city was loaned $3.7 million through the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank, a grant and low interest loan program administered by the State Road and Tollway Authority.
Terry predicts the pedestrian-centric, visitor-friendly improvements will help boost Clarkston as a unique destination in metro Atlanta.
“Clarkston is known as the most ethnically diverse square mile in America, and after these projects are completed, visitors to our city will be able to have a walking experience like no other community,” he said. “From our diverse array of restaurants, shops, and markets to our parks and nature preserves ... we are embodying the future of America in our multiculturalism and mobility.”
The streetscape projects are expected to finish in about 18 months.