DOT: Atlanta opposition to tunnel does not kill idea

State Department of Transportation leaders said  this week that city opposition to a proposed road tunnel under east Atlanta does not kill the idea, at least not yet.

At a meeting Tuesday night of Intown Atlanta neighborhood leaders, new Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said his opposition to the tunnel has been "steadfast and absolute" from the moment he heard of it.  Asked afterward if there were any circumstances under which he could accept the tunnel, Reed said, "they do not exist."

Another Atlanta-area official, Atlanta Regional Commission Chairman Tad Leithead, said the ARC has no opinion on the project yet, and would have to study it extensively if it were to advance in the planning process. However, he added, very preliminary data show a funding gap, a possible $8 toll and not enough lanes, adding up to a project that "doesn't make any sense."

Comments like that got applause and cheers at the  neighborhood meeting on Piedmont Road.

The DOT's commissioner, Vance Smith, said afterward that he valued the input but added, "I still say you, put all the concepts on the table."

David Doss, who favors the tunnel and chairs the DOT committee that deals with toll projects, said Wednesday that he was disappointed with the mayor's reaction but that it doesn't halt the project.  Both Smith and Doss emphasized that the tunnel idea was in a very early phase.

Smith and DOT Planning Director Todd Long stressed that the tunnel has not yet been formally approved or found feasible, and that other toll projects are well ahead of it in the pipeline.  Long said that even with toll money and private investors there would likely be a significant funding gap that "concerns us." It was under consideration however, he said, because of the significant possible benefits to relieving congestion on the Downtown Connector, which would parallel the tunnel.

The state Department of Transportation is considering the new toll road to connect Ga. 400 north of Atlanta to I-675 southeast of the city. It could be a tunnel for most of the way.

Other toll projects, far ahead of it in the planning stages, and the tunnel were among the possibilities that DOT suggested to private investors at a recent conference. DOT is planning a forum to discuss the tunnel idea with tunnel company representatives in the spring. The forum is intended only for the most basic information-gathering on the project's possibilities and pitfalls, the director of DOT's toll program, Earl Mahfuz, said last month.