New Riverdale Road will open this week

By Justin Reedy

A new, rerouted version of Riverdale Road, a major arterial highway in northern Clayton County, is expected to open this week.

The road, which is also called Ga. Highway 139, is being relocated because a portion of it lies in the path of a fifth runway being constructed at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.

Officials from Hartsfield, Clayton County and the cities of Atlanta and College Park on Wednesday celebrated the opening of the new Riverdale Road, which is scheduled to happen Friday but could open as early as today.

"This is another significant development in the ongoing expansion of Hartsfield airport," said Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin at Wednesday's ribbon cutting for the new road. "The relocation of Riverdale Road is a key element of the fifth runway project and was very complicated."

The new road skirts the runway construction area to the west, starting near Airport Boulevard and the western portion of Sullivan Road and continuing to Interstate 285 to the south. The portion of the old Riverdale Road between I-285 and the western edge of Sullivan Road will be closed down when the new road opens this week.

Clayton County Commissioner Virginia Gray, who attended Wednesday's ceremony, is glad to see a positive aspect of the airport expansion for the citizens of northern Clayton County, who have dealt with construction noise and road closings since work began on the fifth runway.

"All the north Clayton residents are getting are negative side effects of this project," Gray said. "It's great that the citizens can see something that's going to benefit them immediately. This is positive, for them to be able to see something that's going to help them during this airport expansion project."

The entire length of Riverdale Road has remained open during the construction of the new path, which started last April and is nearly complete. The new road, which is about two miles long and includes a new intersection at West Fayetteville Road, cost about $10.7 million to construct, according to Hartsfield spokeswoman Lanii Thomas. It includes new overhead lighting for pedestrian safety and bicycle lanes to promote alternative transportation.

"As we move forward with preparations for this complex runway project, we appreciate the patience that motorists have exhibited during encounters with construction crews and directional signage," airport General Manager Ben DeCosta said in a statement. "Our goal was to have a smooth transition for motorists."

The Riverdale Road relocation project is just one part of the construction of Hartsfield's fifth runway, which is being called "the most important runway in America" by DeCosta. The new runway is vital to reducing delays in Atlanta and across the country's airport system, DeCosta says. The $1.284 billion runway is slated for completion in May 2006, and is part of the airport's $5.4 billion expansion master plan.

"This is but one step in the thousands of steps we have to take to be successful (with the Hartsfield expansion program)," Franklin said of the road relocation.