The first phase of the Atlanta Beltline, a series of rails, trails and greenspace that will eventually connect 45 neighborhoods, is almost finished. Construction on the Eastside Trail, which stretches from 10th and Monroe in Midtown to the border of Inman Park and the Old Fourth Ward is supposed to be completed ahead of a dedication for the trail that’s scheduled for October.
The completion comes after numerous delays, which have caused both anticipation and frustration among many Atlanta residents.
It’s Labor Day weekend along the Atlanta BeltLine. Runners, bikers and walkers fill the Eastside trail despite some uncompleted construction and numerous signs which warn them of trespassing. One of those is 36-year-old Nadia Aziz who shifts into gear as she bikes on the trail with her family. Aziz lives nearby in Virginia Highland and enjoys the sections of the trail that have already been paved.
“I think it’s great. It’s really nice and level, and so it’s really great for our small children to ride and skate and scooter and all the things they want to do.
But with the Eastside trail originally scheduled to open last spring, then last summer and now later this fall, Aziz is also frustrated.
“We’ve been a little bit disappointed with that, because we live off the street that dead ends into the BeltLine, and we would love to be able to zoom over to Piedmont Park or Inman Park in the other direction. And we’ve been waiting for a long time and it’s not even finished and there are so many people already using, because they just can’t wait.
Her frustration is shared by Angel Poventud whose home backs to the BeltLine in Adair Park. Poventud has been volunteering and advocating for the BeltLine for the past two years. He thinks many of the delays were unnecessary.
“You’ve have natural unforeseeable events that have occurred that have delayed the project, and then you’ve had things just walking back and forward you’re like they’re tearing that retaining wall down, that’s interesting. That’s not an act of nature, that’s not an unseen pipe somewhere, that’s somebody looking at a drawing wrong.
Poventud believes the delays could have been avoided by more oversight on the ground.
“It seems to me there that there must not be somebody out here whose only responsibility is to manage the construction of the project, because there are just too many mistakes that are really simple mistakes that are happening over, over and over again.”
Further down the trail, 63-year-old Steve Suits helps walkers and bikers cross an uncompleted bridge over Ponce De Leon Avenue. Suits says the bridge, which has exposed pipes, an approximately one and half foot drop and a makeshift plywood ramp is a safety hazard.
“It’s dangerous for anyone who isn’t paying attention. Clearly it’s not something you want citizens to have to deal with because people may get hurt.”
Suits thinks some of the delays are understandable, and he’s looking forward to the trail’s completion sooner rather than later.
“Let’s get it done and do it well.”
And that’s exactly what those overseeing the project say they plan to do.
Ethan Davidson is a spokesperson for Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.
“Barring no other surprises, we should done with most of the concrete work, 99 percent of it, in the next two to three weeks.
And Davidson says the delays were not due to mismanagement or lack of oversight but were a result of extreme heat, storms and unforeseen circumstances that happen when you work in a 100 year old rail corridor.
“We discovered a lot of the kind of unknown things. For example, old sewer pipes that weren’t on any surveys that were made out of really strange materials. Everything from wood, to stone, to brick, things that wouldn’t be seen nowadays.
And as far work being done more than once, he says…
“In any construction project you’re going to have to test the work you do, so in the cases you come up short of the quality that you need to deliver the project you have to do the work over.”
Davidson says it’s just part of ensuring a trail that will stand the test of time and be transformative for the city of Atlanta.
“I think the opening of the Eastside Trail is going to completely change how people look at the city of Atlanta.”
And Davidson says the public can officially begin viewing the trail this weekend during the Art on the Atlanta BeltLine event which kicks off on Saturday.
Jonathan Shapiro contributed to this report.