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Audit: Atlanta’s controversial Northside Drive bridge project stayed on $23M budget after all

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But findings indicate the city’s ballyhooed Open Checkbook system needs work

A rendering of the new Mercedes Benz Stadium bridge at night.
A rendering of the bridge project.
Courtesy of CPL

The ultimate cost of downtown’s extravagant serpentine bridge has long been a matter of contention.

In 2018, urbanist blog ThreadATL calculated the price tag of the Northside Drive pedestrian bridge project to be in the neighborhood of $27 million. Almost a year later, in July 2019, City of Atlanta financial records appeared to suggest the tab had run up to $33 million.

And by October, the city’s bookkeeping indicated the total might have ballooned to more than $41 million.

All the while, officials have maintained the project had remained in accordance with the $23.2 million budget approved by the Atlanta City Council. Now, an independent audit has backed up that claim, according to SaportaReport.

The audit, which is expected to be presented during today’s city council meeting, also points to accounting discrepancies with the city’s Open Checkbook database, a program Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s administration launched to increase government transparency.

In October, Curbed Atlanta discovered that certain check numbers logged in the online spreadsheet had been entered multiple times for different amounts.

One check number, in fact, was logged 16 times, but for different values.

The audit suggests that city managers should tighten up Open Checkbook financial reporting, and in response, those city officials agreed to improve, per SaportaReport.

The audit also identified some other curious discrepancies.

For instance, it could not account for more than $487,000, and the city’s chief financial officer has been tasked with identifying that money and making “adjustments accordingly,” the publication reported.

The audit also shows the city mistakenly overpaid the bridge builder multiple times, although that money was later recovered.

Financial issues aside, the Northside Drive pedestrian bridge, which links Mercedes-Benz Stadium to the Vine City MARTA station, has been controversial since infancy.

The project was rushed to be finished in time for Atlanta’s Super Bowl—during which it was closed to the public.

In August, Kronberg Wall architects published a report decrying the city for spending so much on what they consider “a glaring reminder that Atlanta is often not built to foster equity.”

Kronberg Wall’s assessment also compared the Northside Drive bridge to Midtown’s 5th Street bridge project, which repurposed an otherwise “mediocre swath of concrete spanning the city’s vast Connector” into a complete streets success, packed with green space, seating, bike lanes, and wide sidewalks.

The latter cost just $10.12 million—or $13.7 million, if adjusting for inflation.