The Fulton County School System is calling for a change in the state’s plans for the Ga. 400 express lanes project, but the Georgia Department of Transportation says the change requested is not viable.
“FCS and ultimately, students, their families and the neighboring community will end up being a ‘loser’ any way this progresses,” Fulton County Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney said in a letter to GDOT.
“Unfortunately, this option is not viable,” said Scott Higley, GDOT’s director of strategic communications, in an email.
The district has requested the Ga. 400 lanes be moved further west to avoid coming closer to Dunwoody Springs and Woodland elementary schools.
On Aug. 26, the Fulton County Board of Education sent a resolution to GDOT in opposition to any plan that will ‘negatively impact school property.’
Attached to the resolution was a letter from Fulton County Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney expressing his concern with the current express lane plan, saying the impacts will cause safety concerns for the two schools.
GDOT says shifting the project west is not an option because the shifting would have more overall community impact.
“Shifting the project to the west would require shifting the entirety of the route to the west (in advance of and well beyond the school property) and would result in significantly more impacts to the community,” Higley said.
Looney also says in the letter he is not only concerned with GDOT’s plans impacting the elementary schools, but also the cost of the effects from the widening project having to be recouped by the district.
The steps the district must take to ensure a safe environment at these schools would be expensive and FCS may have no choice but to put capital requests before Fulton County voters in the future SPLOST referendum should GDOT choose not to reimburse the district, Looney says.
“The entire school district and all Fulton County taxpayers could be impacted if the high cost of mitigation due to the MMIP becomes the district’s sole responsibility,” Looney said in the letter.
The estimated costs to mitigate could include sound barriers, structural walls and vegetative buffers between the schools and highway, as well as possibly reinforcing exterior building walls and reinforced doors and glass windows, according to district spokesperson Brian Noyes.
The district does not have a detailed report on estimated costs, but Looney has publicly stated the estimate of $10 million.
Higley says no specifics have been brought to GDOT’s attention.
Looney also sent a district-wide letter on Sept. 5 calling on parents to express their concerns with the plan by contacting GDOT directly.
Higley says GDOT received fewer than 30 emails from parents regarding the project’s potential impact.
District 3 Board of Education member Gail Dean, who represents Woodland, and District 7 Board of Education member Julia Bernath, who represents Dunwoody Springs, both say they are in support of Looney’s position.
Randie Brooks and Kevin Op De Ehze, co-presidents of the Dunwoody Springs PTO, say they are also in support of his position.
Brooks and Ehze say the proposed elevated lanes and the removal of the natural buffer, as well as close proximity of the expansion to the play area, are of great concern.
“The current plans not only pose a safety risk to the students, teachers, and staff of Dunwoody Springs, but will also negatively impact the students’ ability to learn due to the increase in noise pollution,” Brooks and Ehze said in a written statement.
Brooks and Ehze said they hope GDOT hears the community concerns and reconsiders the current plan in place.
“We hope that GDOT will take our concerns seriously and work with Fulton schools to come up with a solution that minimizes the impact…and ensures that the students, teachers and staff are safe,” Brooks and Ehze said.
The Woodland Elementary PTO could not be reached for comment.