Kevin Abel, a Sandy Springs resident and State Transportation Board member, has spoken out in support of the planned toll lanes on I-285 and Ga. 400 and building bus rapid transit on those lanes.
In a Facebook post, Abel said that “Atlanta’s transit future will be reborn with BRT on express lanes.” Leaving BRT out of the toll lanes would be a “devastating missed opportunity,” he said.
Abel represents the 6th Congressional District on the State Transportation Board, which oversees the Georgia Department of Transportation. His district includes parts of Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and areas of Cobb and north Fulton counties.
The toll lanes are planned by GDOT and are expected to be built over the next decade. Bus rapid transit is part of the Ga. 400 toll lanes project, which would run north of the North Springs MARTA Station and already has funding. Local cities have funded studies on building and funding a similar line on the I-285 lanes.
The toll lanes have become controversial due to transparency concerns and the potential property, noise and pollution impacts.
A recent petition to stop the toll lanes has stirred more public opposition, with some City Council members in Dunwoody and Doraville signing on. Abel said he met with Travis Reid, a Dunwoody resident who started the petition.
Abel said he and Reid share a “common goal – we want to see progress on the transit front.” But Abel said he has to take into consideration the “realities of our city, funding, fractured decision making and politics.”
Abel, who was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the 6th Congressional District seat last year, said he doesn’t want to see “local and state politicians pressured into a ‘litmus test’ declaration of opposition” against the toll lanes.
The I-285 project would cost $5 billion and add two new elevated, barrier-separated toll lanes, or “express lanes,” in both directions on I-285, alongside regular travel lanes. The boundaries of the I-285 project have shifted over time, now extending west to the Vinings area and east to the Henderson Road area, and now includes a section of Ga. 400. Construction is estimated to begin in 2023.
In a separate toll lanes project, GDOT plans to start work on Ga. 400 to add two new barrier-separated express lanes in both directions alongside regular travel lanes in a project estimated to cost $1.2 billion and begin construction in 2021.
GDOT says the toll lanes would provide quicker speeds for drivers who pay to use them, while also lessening congestion on regular lanes.
For answers to frequently asked questions about the projects, click here.
Extending MARTA rail north on Ga. 400 and along I-285 would cost $250 million per mile, and GDOT is not allowed by law to fund transit, Abel said. But he said he also doesn’t believe paving is the only answer.
By including bus rapid transit on the toll lanes, progress can be made, Abel said.
“Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will allow for transit vehicles to travel at speeds of 45 mph or faster in these lanes with no toll. And with Arterial Rapid Transit (ART) connecting commuters along the main arteries to these BRT lanes, we can have the anatomy of working transit corridors and a model for future growth across the metro area,” Abel said.
He urged Dunwoody Councilmember Lynn Deutsch and Doraville Councilmember Joseph Geierman, who both signed the petition, to work to ensure BRT on the I-285 toll lanes is funded.
A second phase of an I-285 BRT study has been funded by Brookhaven. The study will determine where to build stations, estimate ridership and find funding options. The first phase was also funded by Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Chamblee, Doraville, Smyrna, Tucker, the Perimeter CIDs and Cumberland CID. The same entities are expected to back the second phase, along with the Tucker-Northlake CID, Brookhaven spokesperson Burke Brennan said.
Update: This article has been updated to include a complete list of entities funding the BRT studies.