Green Infrastructure Project in Downtown Atlanta the First of Its Kind in the State

September 7,2020

Wesley Brown, CAP/ADID Director of Planning and Capital Projects, Saporta Report 

An innovative project at the intersection of I-75/85 and I-20 could change the way water is managed across Atlanta and the nation.

For decades, the neighborhoods of Peoplestown and Summerhill have suffered from flooding and sewage overflows, exacerbated by the stormwater runoff from nearby highways and parking lots surrounding the former Olympic Stadium. It’s the type of longstanding environmental injustice that communities of color face here in Atlanta and nationwide. 

The area, the headwaters of Intrenchment Creek, is a tributary to Atlanta’s other river, the South River, and was once covered in trees and lush vegetation. Today, Downtown’s high-rise buildings, the State Capitol, sprawling parking lots, and highways dominate the headwaters. 

To restore the healthy hydrological function of the watershed meant designing solutions, including “bioretention” cells – or large rain gardens – to capture and infiltrate stormwater, as well as plantings to filter pollutants.

The two bioretention cells east and west of the Capitol Avenue bridge will infiltrate 750,000 gallons of stormwater runoff from the highways annually. The University of Georgia is evaluating the success of the project by assessing the amount of runoff reduction and monitoring bacteria and nutrient levels in the stormwater discharge.

The project was completed in the spring and is the first of its kind in Georgia — and the Georgia Department of Transportation’s first ever green infrastructure retrofit. It is also part of a larger effort on the part of the Intrenchment Creek One Water Management Task Force, a partnership of local community leaders, government agencies, businesses, and the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed, to address flooding and sewer overflows and secure community benefits. The project was made possible with $400,000 of GDOT funding, a $197,745 grant from Georgia Environmental Protection Division, and support from Central Atlanta Progress and the Turner and Kresge Foundations. 

Here in the heart of the city, we’re showing how the issues of clean water, community strength, equity and justice are interconnected, and how the only way forward is by working to address these issues together.