Dunwoody City Council members are raising serious concerns about the state’s plan for new I-285 and Ga. 400 toll lanes that would tower over local neighborhoods and bring more cars into neighborhoods as commuters find ways to access them. And so far, the state has few answers.
Tim Matthews, a project manager for the Georgia Department of Transportation, was peppered with questions by the council at its Oct. 22 meeting in other areas as well, including how to mitigate the loud noise emanating from the new toll lanes. Proposed bus rapid transit running on the Ga. 400 toll lanes was another subject of questions.
Where access points will be for the I-285 toll lanes is already a serious point of contention. The city of Sandy Springs has asked GDOT to move a proposed access point from Mount Vernon Highway to Hammond Drive. But that would likely result in more traffic on Dunwoody’s surface streets, according to city officials.
Matthew said GDOT continues to talk to Sandy Springs, Perimeter Community Improvement Districts and Dunwoody officials about that access point as cities lobby their positions.
“Our preference is Mount Vernon,” Matthews said. “Sandy Springs asked us to look at it. It’s important to remember this [project] has a regional impact and is not just at the local level.”
Councilmember Terry Nall said commuters from surrounding cities will be driving through the city to get to the new toll lanes, creating a “burden on local communities to improve their surface streets.” He asked if GDOT would be helping cities pay for street repairs.
Matthews said that is unknown.
After Transform 285/400
The Georgia Department of Transportation is currently more than a year into its “Transform 285/400” project, which is essentially reorganizing and rebuilding the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange to make traffic flow faster and safer. That project, set to finish in 2020, has drawn public attention for large-scale tree removal for additional highway lanes and for the reconstruction of the Mount Vernon overpass bridge.
But Transform 285/400 is only the beginning. The managed lanes are a separate project that would add even more lanes — four on each highway — in construction that could take a decade. The concept of the project is to allow toll-paying drivers to speed through the interchange in dedicated, entirely separate lanes.
The Ga. 400 managed lanes are tentatively slated to come first, with a construction start in 2021 and opening in 2024. They would run between I-285 — or possibly a bit farther south at the Medical Center area — and Alpharetta’s McFarland Parkway.
On I-285, the lanes would run between I-75 in Cobb County and I-85’s Spaghetti Junction, with other segments to the east and west extending near I-20. Construction could start in 2023 and opening could come in 2028.
On stretches where there is not room to add surface lanes — including Ga. 400 between I-285 and Spalding Drive — the lanes would be built on elevated ramps that would be at least 30 to 40 feet tall and go even higher over interchanges.
The elevated lanes on I-285 would tower over a Georgetown townhome community where Chamblee-Dunwoody Road meets I-285, Councilmember Lynn Deutsch said. She said she gets calls every week from Georgetown residents wondering what is happening and where the elevated toll lanes will go.
Matthews said GDOT is still defining its designs as it works to minimize impacts on residents and businesses.
Environmental studies are underway for I-285, Matthews said, which will also dictate how GDOT will address noise mitigation.
He said once GDOT identifies a site where a noise wall is needed, an agreement is reached with the developer building the toll lanes. The developer does final design and takes that information and goes to the property owners to allow them to vote if they want a sound wall or not.
Noise walls are currently planned to be constructed with concrete and a finish to be more aesthetically pleasing than the yellowish sound walls currently seen along the highways, he said.
Matthews explained GDOT is currently proposing running buses on the toll lanes. Gov. Nathan Deal recently approved $100 million in bond funding for the bus rapid transit “infrastructure.”
Mayor Denis Shortal asked who would pay for BRT transfer stations. Matthews explained GDOT is restricted to spending money on bridges and roads. Building and maintaining transfer stations from BRT to MARTA would be the responsibility of local jurisdictions, he said.
“We better start passing the hat,” Shortal said.
Shortal is part of a group of local officials who are discussing I-285 transit possibilities and co-funding a study. The group includes mayors or other officials from Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Chamblee, Doraville, Smyrna, Tucker and PCID and Cumberland Community Improvement Districts.
The group contracted recently with Kimley-Horn Associates to conduct a transit study for their cities and the impact of the I-285 toll lanes and analyze BRT.