Toco Hills residents fear increased traffic

Residents of the Toco Hills neighborhood are upset about the Georgia Department of Transportation’s plans to change to an intersection on LaVista Road to ease vehicle traffic through an area that is home to five synagogues and two day schools and is used by a steady flow of pedestrians.

GDOT wants to create left-turn lanes at Biltmore Drive for eastbound and westbound traffic. The project also calls for the construction of a right-turn lane going eastbound on LaVista, a flashing yellow beacon on the west side, and a grass buffer between the road and the sidewalk.

State Transportation Board member Stacey Key supports the project.

State Transportation Board member Stacey Key supports the project.

“We are changing the travel lanes from 12-foot to 11-foot (wide). It’s safer. The sidewalk will now be 7-foot,” said Mehdi Bashirian, a design engineer for GDOT, which held a public information open house Tuesday, Oct. 27, at Congregation Beth Jacob. “There’s a huge concentration of people moving around here.”

Tuesday’s community input session served as a makeup for the first open house, which, in a display of ignorance about or indifference to neighborhood sensibilities, was scheduled for Sept. 23 during Yom Kippur.

“Our voices seem to have little or no impact,” said Stephen Filreis, who has lived in the area since 1973. “The impact on the neighborhood feels like the last thing on the minds of the DOT.”

Filreis said other intersections are much more problematic in terms of traffic backups than Biltmore Drive, and a more comprehensive look at the area is required. “There are so many other projects I can think of which would be a much better use of taxpayer money. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why this project has even gotten past the initial suggestions.”
Sydney Rubin-Lewis of Torah Day School doesn’t see the point of the changes either. “This is a Band-Aid instead of addressing the problem. All you’re doing is asking for more trouble and more accidents here … and saying, ‘How do we accommodate the drivers?’ ”

What is needed, she said, is an exit off Interstate 85 straight to Clifton Road “so all those students, doctors and employees of Emory, the CDC and the hospitals don’t have to come through our neighborhood. It would be safer for the children and safer for the residents.”

Listening to Rubin-Lewis was Stacey Key, who represents the 5th Congressional District on the state Transportation Board and is a strong supporter of the LaVista/Biltmore project. “Getting an exit off I-85 is a huge initiative,” Key told her. “It takes time; it takes money to make that happen. You’d have to cut through neighborhoods and houses, destroy some areas.”

County Commissioner Jeff Rader discusses the LaVista-Biltmore project with Jewish neighbors at the open house Oct. 27.

County Commissioner Jeff Rader discusses the LaVista-Biltmore project with Jewish neighbors at the open house Oct. 27.

GDOT did not respond to requests from the AJT for accident statistics in the area, but DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader said residents have voiced their concerns to him. “People were complaining about the danger to pedestrians, and then drivers were complaining because they were stopped behind other drivers trying to turn. Some drivers were behaving badly.”
Annalysce Baker-Wilson, a GDOT spokeswoman, said the $1.8 million project could start construction in the summer of 2017 and should take eight to 12 months.

You can submit comments and suggestions about the project until Tuesday, Nov. 10, by emailing ProjectComments@dot.ga.gov.

Photos by Kevin Madigan