By John Schaffner
Motorists who drive any portion of the northern arc of I-285—between I-75 and I-85—likely are looking for some forthcoming fix for the congestion that plagues that section of roadway daily—especially during rush hours.
But, in reality, they may have to wait until 2016 to 2025 for that fix to become complete. At least that is the forecast from two members of the revive285 top end project team Oct. 25 during a three-hour public information open house at Riverwood High School in Sandy Springs.
Revive285 is a joint project of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) and this was the third public information open house the task force had held as part of its mission to develop a comprehensive solution for the vital top end corridor.
“Basically, we are taking the top end of I-285, from I-75 over to I-85, as one corridor-type project,” said Darryl D. VanMeter, assistant state urban design engineer in GDOT’s Office of Urban Design. “We are trying to look at all the different challenges and problems that we have with I-285 and take that through a holistic process where we can come up with the right solution for the corridor so that we can actually implement something.
VanMeter said the task force was in its third round of meetings and has “gotten a lot of feedback on ideas and strategies to employ and that is why we are here tonight, to show what we have received as far as comments and some proposed recommendations that are on the display boards.”
He said there will be one more public information meeting, which likely will be held around January of 2009. “There is a lot of heavy lifting to do within the next year or two to flesh out these concepts,” he explained. Then there will be a public hearing after the January 2009 meeting. The task force is holding meetings on both ends of the corridor.
Asked when he anticipates some actual work might begin on the corridor, Van Meter said, “Depending on what comes out of the process, and what gets identified as the preferred alternative, the first step is completing the environmental process,” he explained. “We are hoping to complete that in the year 2010. That is when you will know this (proposal) is what we ought to go with.”
But that is just the beginning. “We don’t have a specific idea (of how to implement the program) in mind yet,” Van Meter said. “We are going to be fleshing out different ideas for implementation strategies. One potential way may be to entertain a public/private type of proposal that might be able to accelerate the construction implementation.”
He said it would reasonably be a year after that (2010) before we could get started as far as implementing the entire corridor. “Best case scenario, as far as opening it to traffic, would probably be five or six years after that,” he added.
Shaun Green, an engineer with the GRTA who is a member of the revive285 project team, said he doesn’t feel there will be major changes completed until 2015 at the earliest and possibly as late as 2025.
According to Greene, one of the major factors that has not yet sunk in with the public attending these meetings is that every bridge over I-285 between I-75 and I-85—except for the new fly-over bridge near Perimeter Mall that is to be dedicated this month—will have to be torn down and replaced with a new bridge that is long enough to span the new corridor design.
That will require a significant amount of time to accomplish, but even more importantly, a great deal of money that apparently is not presently available. It also will create a great deal of inconvenience for motorists who cross any of those bridges on a regular basis and use the on-off ramps associated with those bridges at I-285. It will create the need for a lot of changes and a great deal of patience.
When first opened in 1969, I-285 was designed to serve as a bypass for Atlanta and was a four-lane highway, with two lanes in each direction. Over the years it has evolved into a main artery. One of the busiest portions of I-285 is this top end corridor which now struggles to handle 250,000 vehicles each day.
At the Oct. 25 meeting, there was no formal presentation, but there were information stations positioned around the room with revive285 top end project team members staffing each to answer public questions and concerns about strategies and recommendations to this point. There also was an opportunity for those attending to provide input through comment cards or by visiting with a court reporter at the site.
Among the strategies that have been considered were: No build, high-occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV), high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, truck only lanes (TOL), express lanes, toll lanes, operational improvements, transportation system management/transportation demand management, surface street improvements, general purpose lanes, bus rapid transit (BRT), express bus, automated guideway transit, maglev, monorail, heavy rail and light rail.
Design components that will be considered as part of each recommended alternative, will include: Operational improvements (interchanges, ramp improvements, etc.), surface street improvements (traffic signalization, widening, new roadways, etc.), rideshare and vanpools, tolling, bike and pedestrian improvements and express buses.
“We are integrating transit into the overall transportation corridor here, we are integrating operational safety improvements, managed lane improvements that are envisioned,” Van Meter said. “We are trying to preserve mobility on the top end of I-285. That is our vision,” he added.
“We all know the problems that we are seeing right now on I-285,” Van Meter stated. “We realize we are not going to be able to widen our way out of congestion. But we want to be able to preserve mobility options for folks in the future along this corridor.”