Narrowing road to be studied

Shouting "We will not let MCG take our black heritage," a couple dozen protesters lined Laney-Walker Boulevard early Thursday to protest a proposal by Georgia Health Sciences University to close a two-block section of the road to create a pedestrian mall to honor the road's two namesakes.

GHSU President Ricardo Azziz, however, said he has not heard from those who organized the protest and that the school is using a state grant to study narrowing the road instead.

While some in the small crowd talked about traffic problems and congestion from any alterations to the road, others connected it to other issues, such as the closing of the former Gilbert Manor housing complex, the election of Commissioner Matt Aitken to the district's seat, and a historic church on Jones Street that lost parking because of a state road expansion.

Minister Janice Jenkins said the community has had enough.

"I don't know why we have to compromise," she said. "We have gone through this over and over again where it always seems like we get the smallest piece of the pie."

In December, the university asked a committee of the Augusta Commission to consider closing the two-block section of Laney-Walker that bisects the campus in favor of creating a pedestrian mall and green space that would honor Lucy Craft Laney and the Rev. C.T. Walker.

Many in the crowd said Azziz should have spoken to them directly about it. Azziz, too, said he is vexed by the lack of communication with the community.

"One of the things I'm actually stricken by is how little any of those individuals, whoever it is that is protesting, has communicated with us," he said Monday. "In fact that they've never communicated with us."

A university spokeswoman said a protest organizer did call to talk to the university this week.

Some in the crowd also cited the road's historical significance. Minister James Ivery, who lives in nearby Ervin Towers, said it could become a civil rights issue.

"You don't alter a historic boulevard or street," he said. "To alter this historical boulevard for the sake of safety is ludicrous."

Marilyn McKinnie remembers it was Gwinnett Street when she went to Lucy C. Laney High School in 1976. The name change came later that year, according to The Augusta Chronicle archives. McKinnie noted many improvements to the area, such as new housing and a stadium for Laney High. The closing would not be welcome, she said.

"It's going to be so much congestion," McKinnie said. "I think they should put in some speed bumps or an over-ramp, or something like that."

In fact, the university is now using a state grant that came before Azziz's arrival last year to look at narrowing the road from four lanes to two.

"We're looking at that proposal to see if we can create something that would be acceptable to both the community and to our university to increase the safety as well as the beauty of that area," he said. "So we're looking at alternatives to try to work on a compromise with community leaders. But we have not actually heard much from the community leaders."

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