A wide-ranging study of Pill Hill’s traffic and possible mitigation projects is underway, with results expected by mid-November.
Some officials are questioning how useful the study, conducted by Kimley-Horn, will be, given its 90-day timeframe, small target area and inclusion of projects that remain on the planning board. One state project that triggered the study, “managed lane” ramps along I-285 and Ga. 400, lacks any detailed plan.
But Yvonne Williams, president and CEO of the Perimeter Center Improvement Districts, which commissioned the study last month on behalf of the Medical Center’s institutions, said she believes there’s value in the study.
“The study will be identifying best opportunities to best relieve traffic,” she said, adding that Kimley-Horn has conducted many previous Pill Hill studies and has that background to draw on.
“There’s a lot of interest in the Medical Center area,” Williams said. “[Local institutions need] to make sure that we have a transportation grid that works…It makes absolute sense that we [have] a complete transportation network.”
The study came out of an effort by Northside Hospital, which is footing the $100,000 bill, according to Williams. But Emory Saint Joseph’s and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite are participating, along with Sandy Springs city staff and other local stakeholders.
The study will include existing conditions and projects on the books, as well as such longstanding concepts as extending Perimeter Center Parkway behind Emory Saint Joseph’s to Johnson Ferry Road.
The four-year reconstruction of the I-285/Ga.400 interchange alongside Pill Hill, slated to begin in October, is the elephant in the room. But Northside’s desire for a traffic study was triggered, Williams said, by another, even longer-term state project there: “managed lanes,” meaning separate lanes with access limited by toll or vehicle type, which would be added to the interchange and the top-end Perimeter in general later.
Gov. Nathan Deal announced funding for the managed lanes earlier this year, but details were scarce. Jill Goldberg, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s communications manager, said in a recent interview that the managed lanes must begin construction by 2026 under the funding order, but that it is too late to fold them into the current I-285/Ga.400 project.
“It’s not possible to do within the current scope of the I-285/Ga.400 reconstruction,” she said.
The lanes will have to be built later and will require their own land acquisition and environmental review, among other complexities, Goldberg said. GDOT knows that the current interchange project won’t make the managed lanes impossible, she said, but still hasn’t decided exactly where they will run.
According to the city of Sandy Springs, among the managed lane possibilities under study are two giant ramps going right through the interchange and an access-ramp system where Ashford-Dunwoody Road meets I-285. Some of those ideas got Northside’s attention, Goldberg said.
“That conversation started the larger conversation about what can be done to improve traffic in that area,” she said.
The complexity and uncertainty of such proposals are also getting attention. At a recent Sandy Springs City Council briefing, Bryant Poole, the assistant city manager for infrastructure, likened the I-285/Ga.400 managed lanes to “trying to stick a needle through a spaghetti noodle.”
“We think that this [traffic study] scope should be expanded” to a larger area and a longer timeframe, he said, noting the “devil is in the details.”
Goldberg agreed that the uncertainty and timeframe means the Pill Hill study will be a “very broad stroke” done in an “extremely high-level” method.
But it’s also just part of a package of new cooperative traffic planning for the Medical Center. The three hospitals and Sandy Springs are also working on an agreement to conduct joint traffic and parking plans, apparently for the first time in their history.
The activity follows Mayor Rusty Paul and the City Council this summer expressing displeasure with the apparent lack of solutions for the booming Medical Center’s traffic.