Dunwoody residents living in the Georgetown community will likely have to wait until the end of this year before learning how new toll lanes along I-285 may affect their homes, businesses and also a historic recreation center.
That was the message Georgia Department of Transportation representatives told more than 60 residents who gathered at City Hall on Jan. 22.
The meeting, arranged by City Councilmember Lynn Deutsch for the Georgetown residents, provided them with background of the “I-285 Top End Express Lanes” project that is slated to begin construction in 2023. But questions about right of way acquisition, if and when barriers would be built to buffer interstate traffic noise, and where planned elevated toll lanes would be built went largely unanswered.
The I-285 Top End Express Lanes project, estimated to cost close to $5 billion, focuses on adding two new elevated, barrier-separated express lanes in both directions on I-285, alongside regular travel lanes. They could stand 30 feet or higher. GDOT says the added toll lanes would alleviate traffic on one of the most heavily traveled and congested highways in the country by allowing motorists to pay a fee to drive in less congested lanes.
More than three miles of I-285 Top End Express Lanes would be located in Dunwoody.
New toll lanes, called “express lanes” or “managed lanes,” are also planned for Ga. 400 in the Perimeter Center area over the next decade, with the intent of improving overall traffic flow. Parts of both projects are expected to be elevated toll lanes to use existing right of way. The Ga. 400 lanes also would carry a new MARTA bus rapid transit route.
Construction of those toll lanes is slated to begin in 2021 and open to traffic 2024.
The I-285 top end toll lanes and Ga. 400 toll lanes are separate projects from the “Transform 285/400” project now underway. Transform 285/400 is essentially reorganizing and rebuilding the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange to make traffic flow faster and safer. It is expected to be finished in 2020.
Tim Matthews, a GDOT program manager, said at the Jan. 22 meeting that early right of way acquisition is now underway in the Dunwoody and Sandy Springs area, particularly for property touching I-285 right of way, because of Perimeter Center’s rapid development. Acquiring right of way for the project is expected to take place for the next two years. “Toward end of this year we will have a little bit more to show folks when it comes to comes to concepts and so on and get more in-depth into the environmental process,” Matthews told the crowd.
The Georgetown community includes the Kroger-anchored Georgetown Shopping Center near the Chamblee-Dunwoody Road interchange. The Dunwoody Pines Retirement Community and the Ashford Academy school are adjacent to the shopping center.
To the west of the interchange and on both sides of the interstate are dozens of single-family homes on such roads as Old Spring House Lane and Brawley Circle. They are separated from I-285 only by a thicket of trees. When the trees are bare, motorists driving along I-285 can readily see the 40 townhomes of the Chateau Club townhome community.
Who and what of these homes and businesses will be impacted are unknown, Matthews said. How the project might impact the 50-year-old Georgetown Recreation Club’s property that runs up to the I-285 right of way is also unknown, he said.
An actual concept and design for what is to be built is not expected to be ready for public viewing until the end of this year or early 2020. At that time, there will be public information open houses complete with illustrations of where the toll lanes would be built. Residents can provide input at that time with another round of open houses set to occur in early 2022.
The project will be put out to bid to a developer to build the toll lanes and construction is slated to start in 2023. Plans are for the new toll lanes to open in 2028.
Many residents at the meeting asked about noise barriers and if they could be built before any construction actually started on the toll lanes.
That is also unknown, Matthews said. Because a developer is to be hired to complete the design and build the project, it will be up the developer to determine how to best handle noise barriers. Matthews said GDOT could incentivize the developer to do so in some way through the bidding process.
GDOT held community meetings on Jan. 14 and 16 that also were scarce on specifics and served more as Toll Lanes 101 lectures with promises of more community meetings to come.
The Fulton County School District is also is concerned the toll lanes to be built over the next decade could take property from local schools.
The Dunwoody Homeowners Association is scheduled to have a GDOT meeting about the toll lanes on Feb. 10 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the North DeKalb Cultural Arts Center, 5339 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, Dunwoody.
Another local GDOT meeting is set for March 12, 4:30-7:30 p.m., at Sandy Springs City Hall, 1 Galambos Way. Other other meetings are Feb. 28 in Alpharetta, March 5 in Cumming and March 7 in Roswell; click here for the list of times and locations.