Georgia DOT rolls out latest plans for I-285 toll lanes

Halina and Constantine Gaurilidis of Sandy Springs watch a visualization of the proposed I-285 Top End Express Lanes during a public meeting Tuesday. The Georgia Department of Transportation is seeking public comment on its latest plans for the toll lanes. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com
Halina and Constantine Gaurilidis of Sandy Springs watch a visualization of the proposed I-285 Top End Express Lanes during a public meeting Tuesday. The Georgia Department of Transportation is seeking public comment on its latest plans for the toll lanes. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Georgia’s latest plans for toll lanes on the top end of the Perimeter would affect fewer properties than originally envisioned, but area residents worry the project will still adversely affect their neighborhoods.

Plans unveiled last year would have required the Georgia Department of Transportation to acquire or obtain easements for more than 300 parcels along the 22-mile route. The latest plans unveiled at recent public meetings would affect about 265.

State officials say the changes are evidence they’re listening to residents’ concerns as they prepare for the $5 billion expansion of I-285 roughly between I-75 and I-85 north of Atlanta.

“We’ve done a lot of work to minimize the impact,” said Tim Matthews, the manager of GDOT’s Major Mobility Investment Program.

Residents still worry their quality of life will be sacrificed as GDOT widens one of the busiest stretches of highway in the Southeast through a highly developed area. And some doubt their comments will make much difference.

“It’s not like I can say, `Don’t do it,’” said Harland Hills of Sandy Springs, who will lose part of his property. “They’re going to do it.”

The project is key to GDOT's plans for 120 miles of toll lanes in metro Atlanta. More than half of that network already is open, including 30 miles of lanes on I-75 and I-575 to the northwest, 25 miles on I-85 northeast of Atlanta and 12 miles on I-75 to the south.

GDOT also plans toll lanes on Ga. 400 in Fulton and Forsyth counties and along the northern half of the Perimeter. When the network is completed, GDOT says it will allow motorists to travel roughly from Buford to Acworth or Canton at the height of rush hour while avoiding the worst traffic.

The new lanes also could serve as the backbone of a regional bus rapid transit network that would get more commuters out of their cars. And they could benefit residents and businesses in the Perimeter area.

“For the Perimeter to continue to thrive, we need a way to get people in and out efficiently,” said Ann Hanlon, the executive director of the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts.

But one person’s great commute runs through another’s neighborhood — especially in the highly developed Perimeter area. Even under the revised plan, GDOT would need to acquire parts of scores of properties. In some cases, the agency says that amounts to just a few feet. But about 30 structures would be affected.

Even those who wouldn’t lose property are worried about the new lanes encroaching on their communities.

Ranee Franklin lives off Powers Ferry Road in Sandy Springs. She worries more lanes will mean more traffic, which already makes a racket 24 hours a day.

“We can hear the highway,” Franklin said while reviewing GDOT’s plans at a recent public forum. “It’s constant noise.”

Her neighbor, Jay Mason, believes residents are paying the price for metro Atlanta’s failure to embrace mass transit.

“From a big-picture perspective, I wish we were pursuing expansion of MARTA,” Mason said.

GDOT says it has tried to minimize the impact of the project on surrounding neighborhoods. One example: The original design called for the agency to acquire parts of 53 parcels between Paces Ferry Road and Cobb Parkway. The latest design would affect just 21 properties.

Dunwoody City Councilman Tom Lambert thinks more can be done.

“It looks like they’re not taking as much as in the first design,” Lambert said this week at a GDOT forum. “But I think there’s still some tweaks they could do to save some more properties.”

GDOT recently pushed back the timetable for the lanes and split them into smaller projects. Originally, the entire top end was to be completed by 2028.

Now an eastern section from Ga. 400 to Henderson Road in DeKalb County will be done by 2029. That project will include toll lanes on Ga. 400 up to the North Springs MARTA station. The western section — from Ga. 400 to Paces Ferry Road — is set to be completed in 2032.

In addition, GDOT will break out other parts of the construction into smaller projects. They include westbound collector-distributor lanes from Chamblee Dunwoody Road to Ashford Dunwoody Road, a westbound auxiliary lane between Roswell Road and Riverside Drive, and interchange improvements at Peachtree Industrial Boulevard.

The latest timetable calls for a draft environmental review to be completed by the end of this year, with additional public meetings to follow.

In the meantime, GDOT will accept comments on the plans through Feb. 25. Spokesman Scott Higley said the comments do make a difference.

“We need to hear the comments,” he said, “so we can make the best decisions we can for the region.”

I-285 toll lanes: Your chance to comment

The Georgia Department of Transportation will accept comments on its plans for toll lanes on the top end of the Perimeter through Feb. 25. To comment and for more information, visit www.majormobilityga.com/projects/topend.

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