Parkways could tie Augusta together

ShieldsDESIGN LLC president John Shields gave a status report of sorts Thursday on his ongoing citywide master plan, saying that what Augusta needs to tie its differing regions together is a system of pedestrian-friendly, landscaped parkways.

The parkways would overlay existing roads, which would be beautified, reworked and refitted with accompanying bike and walking trails, so that a bicyclist could comfortably ride from Blythe to downtown Augusta, or from east Augusta to Augusta Exchange shopping center.

Around these thoroughfares, and at key intersections, would be opportunities for compact, mixed-use communities, Mr. Shields said. Sewer expansion could be limited to areas where the city encourages intensive residential and commercial development, then public transit routes could be set to accommodate these clusters, making the bus system viable again.

"We don't believe that the Augusta that you see today is going to be the Augusta that you see tomorrow," Mr. Shields told an audience of about 45 at Augusta Technical College.

What he presented Thursday was only a draft of a draft, his consolidated findings after three public meetings and interviews with city commissioners, department heads and community leaders.

A draft report will be presented in mid-February, then the final master plan, which the commission ordered at a cost of $500,000, is to be presented July 31.

Some of the proposed parkways on his working map run along River Watch Parkway, Broad Street and Wheeler, Washington and Tobacco roads, but the one he described as being most crucial he termed the "farm to city line," telling the story of Augusta from its most rural to its most urban.

It would start in Blythe, run along Georgia Highway 88 through Hephzibah, go north along Windsor Spring Road past Diamond Lakes Regional Park, continue north on Richmond Hill Road past Regency Mall, hook onto Deans Bridge Road, connect to Martin Luther King Boulevard, then head into the city core by way of 15th Street.

"I think it would be a terrific way for Augusta to come together," Mr. Shields said of his parkways proposal, "in perhaps a way that it has not heretofore."

His map also cut out nine "key action areas" that should be the focus of future projects.

An important one, he said, will be around the intersection of Windsor Spring and Tobacco roads, an area termed Windsor Spring Town Center, which could have a walkable, town center-type development with shops and new housing.

In one called West Augusta, Mr. Shields mentioned establishing an amphitheater as part of a possible collaboration with Augusta National Golf Club. In another, called Old City, he reiterated his recommendation from his earlier downtown master plan that the John C. Calhoun Expressway be lowered to ground level, because it splits the Harrisburg neighborhood in half.

His South Gate area includes the Regency Mall site, which was a sore subject during the question-and-answer session.

Mr. Shields said he does not foresee the free market solving the problems of the Gordon Highway/Deans Bridge Road intersection anytime soon. Development has moved elsewhere in the city, and that stretch of highway is anything but pedestrian-friendly.

"Part of the reason that Regency Mall is not going anywhere is because of the rest of the area," he said.

His team's economic consultant, Jim Hartling of Urban Partners, told the group that because the intersection lies in the center of the city, it might be a good place for government, health and senior services.

"Perhaps Fort Gordon could cause something to fall out of the sky," Mr. Hartling said of the mall building.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

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