Wider Roswell Road bridge at I-285 subject of open house

Interested motorists on Tuesday can get their first look at a project that should ease traffic at one of the worst intersections in in the metro area in the next two years.

Even better, city officials have a $1.5-million federal earmark which will cover about half of the estimated cost to widen the Roswell Road bridge over Interstate 285 in Sandy Springs.

By using city money, officials believe they can begin adding another lane so traffic in both directions will have a designated turn onto the highway by early summer. Hence drivers get a better commute in just 18 to 24 months.

By comparison, a state Department of Transportation project designed to ease congestion at I-285 and its bridges and connectors is expected to take at least a decade.

“We have worked to improve traffic flow along Roswell Road through the entire city, but it breaks down when you get to the bridge,” said Mayor Eva Galambos. “The bridge is our bottleneck.”

The five-lane bridge is constantly clogged, unable to handle the volume of motorists turning onto the highway with those driving across the narrow span.

Relief may have its own short-term consequence. The bridge could be reduced to four and sometimes three lanes during construction, according to Tom Black, the city's public works director. But he was quick to note the city hopes to do some of the work at night, to cut down on what could be a new traffic headache.

The city paid a consultant, Arcadis, $250,000 to figure out how to use the existing right-of-way to build another lane onto the existing bridge, so that traffic in both directions will have a designated turn lane onto I-285.

Those plans will be up for review at a special public open house from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Sandy Springs City Hall on Roswell Road.

City and state DOT representatives will be on hand to walk people through the designs, set up at certain stations, and answer questions about the proposal.

It could be a packed house, if just regular commuters show up. Nearly 23,000 vehicles travel the Roswell corridor daily during the morning and evening rush hours, according to a recent travel-time study.

Sandy Springs became one of the only cities in the metro areas to synchronize its traffic lights along the thoroughfare. The city also installed an override system that can control the lights remotely to keep traffic moving.

Both have improved travel time, according to the recent study. But city records also show that the bridge is the site of nearly one accident a day. While most crashes are minor, they further delay traffic in the area.

“What’s really driving this are the number of accidents out there,” Black said. “We view it as an operational safety improvement.”

The city initially hoped that the DOT would pick up most of the cost. But with Sandy Springs proposing to take the lead and use a mix of federal and local money, the DOT would mostly just serve as an oversight agency, said spokesman Mark McKinnon.

The project is on the DOT’s construction program, meaning that the state would oversee the work once it begins.

That’s fine for Galambos, who made the bridge project a key component of her re-election campaign last year.

“There is a great need for this, for our drivers, for our downtown and for our city,” Galambos said.