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Albany, Dougherty County officials join forces to improve East Broad underpass

Clinton Johnson, Bobby Coleman say landmark traffic pass-through a safety hazard

Albany City Commissioner Bobby Coleman, left, and Dougherty County Commissioner Clinton Johnson are working together to bring attention to what they call the deplorable conditions of the Broad Avenue underpass in East Albany. (Staff Photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Albany City Commissioner Bobby Coleman, left, and Dougherty County Commissioner Clinton Johnson are working together to bring attention to what they call the deplorable conditions of the Broad Avenue underpass in East Albany. (Staff Photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — District 3 Dougherty County Commissioner Clinton Johnson offers a little perspective on his and Ward II Albany City Commissioner Bobby Coleman’s joint call to repair the deteriorating infrastructure and improve the appearance of the Broad Avenue underpass located less than a half-mile from the Shackleford Shopping Complex.

“You asked me a while back (for a Herald article) about consolidation (of city and county governments),” Johnson said. “When you have conversations like Commissioner Coleman and I are having here today, you essentially have a consolidated government.

“This underpass is in deplorable shape, yet it is a gateway into the city of Albany. Commissioner Coleman and I share the same constituents, and they want to see something done.”

And, Coleman points out, the government leaders are looking for more than token attention.

“We don’t want them to come in here and slap a coat of paint on this,” the city commissioner said. “This is not just about appearance. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done at the underpass. This has become a public safety issue; that’s a dangerous spot right as you’re coming to the heart of the city.”

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Large potholes and uneven pavement are among the concerns government officials have for the underpass on Broad Avenue in East Albany. (Staff Photos: Carlton Fletcher)

Johnson, who is in the second year of his first term on the County Commission, and Coleman, who is four months into his term with the City Commission, have separately decried the condition of the Broad Avenue underpass during meetings of their respective government bodies. During lunch Tuesday, they spelled out their joint concerns.

“There are huge potholes in the street, which makes the underpass a driving hazard,” Coleman said. “The pavement is uneven, there is no lighting anywhere in that area, no guardrails to protect pedestrians, litter is rampant and the shrubbery surrounding the site is overgrown with weeds.

“It looks like a place that has been totally abandoned.”

Johnson said that while he supports ongoing efforts to revitalize Albany’s central business district, there is a feeling of abandonment east of the Flint River.

“This area is part of downtown; I believe it’s included in the city’s TAD (tax allocation district),” Johnson said. “A lot of people on the eastside have to go through the underpass to get downtown, and it’s become a safety hazard. If (city officials) expect a buy-in for downtown redevelopment from people east of the river, they need to understand that people there want their part of town fixed, too.

“There’s a lot of talk about revitalizing some of the historic neighborhoods, and that’s great. But we’d like to see some of this revitalization in our neighborhoods.”

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Albany and Dougherty County officials are demanding that aesthetic and infrastructure improvements be made at an underpass that they call a “gateway” to downtown Albany.

The commissioners walk with a reporter from Tropical Taste to the underpass, pointing out some of the concerns they’d mentioned. Greenery planted along the hilly northwest entrance of the underpass is all but unrecognizable underneath weeds that have taken over the incline. Vehicles, many of their drivers obviously oblivious to what awaits them in the tunnel of the underpass, rattle though on uneven pavement before emerging on the other side.

Johnson points out sections of missing guardrails on the northeastern side of the underpass and notes the absence of working lights on a narrow pathway adjacent to the structure.

“That’s a steep incline; you could easily have people fall down there without the guardrails,” the county commissioner says. “And in the darkness back here, it would be easy for someone to attack another person and never be seen. There are any number of safety hazards here.”

Coleman picks up on that line of thought.

“If an ambulance is needed in the area around here, there’s already going to be a delay because the (Broad Avenue) bridge is out,” he said. “Then, if they pick up someone, could you imagine what it would be like riding in the back of an ambulance on a gurney going over those potholes?

“I think it’s a shame that, because of the ongoing construction of the bridge, people who come to Albany want to see it, but when they ride a short ways they see these rundown neighborhoods on the east side of the river.”

Johnson said he and Coleman, with continued support from Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard and other colleagues, plan to keep pushing for improvements at the underpass and in other run-down neighborhoods in their district.

“We don’t really see (working together to improve the underpass) as that big a deal,” Coleman said. “In fact, I hope this is just the start of city and county leaders actively working together to bring about positive change in our community. We’re all supposed to be working for the people of Albany and Dougherty County.”

Adds Johnson, “I think in the past, egos have gotten in the way. There has been a lot of us vs. them, city vs. county. That doesn’t make sense. We all must work together to make our community the best it can be.”