Residents have concerns about noise because of proposed toll lanes on Ga. 400 between Sandy Springs and Forsyth County.
The Georgia Department of Transportation hosted a virtual question-and-answer session on Sept. 1 to get public feedback about the toll lanes. Residents asked questions about noise effects, property acquisition and project design during the session. Construction on the lanes, which GDOT calls express lanes, is projected to start in 2022 and be open to traffic in 2026.
The toll lanes are intended to be part of a future metro-wide system. Locally, the toll lanes would run along I-285 and Ga. 400. While the toll lanes eventually would be part of a unified, interconnected system, GDOT has divided them into subsections for planning and construction purposes.
The “Ga. 400” project includes only the part of the highway from the North Springs MARTA Station northward; the southern piece of Ga. 400 in Perimeter Center is within the I-285 project because it involves a lot of connection-building with that highway. And the I-285 part of the toll lanes was itself broken up into multiple sections, including east, west and top end.
GDOT officials gave a live presentation on Sept. 1 of the information in its virtual meeting room, which include categories such as potential detours, environmental impacts, air and noise impacts and property acquisitions. Officials pointed to that resource as a way for residents to get many of their questions answered.
In terms of traffic noise, the route would receive an estimated 4.7 average decibel increase over the current sound levels by 2046, according to GDOT’s draft environmental impact report. Some spots would receive 15 decibels or more, which would make them eligible to get noise barriers.
Officials said GDOT is doing studies to see where noise barriers are needed, which may mean removing and relocating some existing barriers. If GDOT finds a location for a noise barrier that affects residents and businesses by a 5 decibel noise reduction or more, there will be a vote to see if those residents or owners want the barrier before construction starts on it.
Preliminary noise barrier locations are currently being determined, and noise barriers will be placed “as early as practical” after construction starts, according to the noise barrier information in the virtual meeting room.
The toll lane plans have drawn controversy for possible impacts on local traffic and for the need to take property. The Ga. 400 project will require demolishing about 45 homes in Sandy Springs and about five businesses, according to GDOT. GDOT says the toll lanes would speed up overall traffic by letting paying drivers go faster than those in the free lanes.
GDOT officials said residents whose property is needed for the project will be contacted by a representative who will go over the plans. Properties that may be acquired first are ones already on the market or have plans for developments. If there’s a chance the footprint of the toll lanes could change, GDOT may not acquire those properties until later in the process.
GDOT officials said there will be a benefit for drivers on general purpose lanes as well as the toll lanes because of an overall reduction of congestion. People can use the toll lanes only by purchasing a Peach Pass, and the pricing will be dynamic based on the traffic during that time of the day.
The Ga. 400 lanes and possibly the I-285 toll lanes would carry MARTA buses using new dedicated stations. Officials said they are working with MARTA and have made sure the project allows a north extension if MARTA chooses to extend its heavy rail line.
The project does not yet have a developer, officials said, so there’s not a detailed timeline about what portions of the project will start first.