By Gerhard Schneibel

With the concept and development phase of the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Revive285: Top End project scheduled to end this year, bus rapid transit (BRT) lanes are one of seven alternatives, said Darryl VanMeter of the department’s Office of Innovative Program Delivery.

A BRT lane system “emulates the efficiency of a light rail,” he said. It operates based on fixed paths that can follow designated lanes, high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes or city streets.

The “top end” corridor runs along Interstate 285 between Interstates 75 and 85, much of it in Sandy Springs.

The Sandy Springs City Council has mentioned it prefers BRT lanes to the construction of an expensive light-rail system, and VanMeter said the department works closely with local jurisdictions.

“We try to make sure that all of our local partners are informed as to what their options are because it affects their local systems,” he said.

Interstate 285 opened in 1969 and has evolved from a bypass with two lanes in each direction to its present state. The top end serves between 200,000 and 250,000 vehicles a day, making it one of the most heavily traveled corridors in Georgia.

The Transportation Department is expected to make a decision on Revive285: Top End in 2010. It is assessing options ranging in expense from building nothing to installing light rail.

One possible strategy would include minor improvements within the corridor and upgraded local bus service.

Substantial changes to the configuration of the corridor would take place under some alternatives. In addition to BRT lanes and light rail, HOV lanes and truck-only lanes are possible.

A combination of strategies is likely, VanMeter said. “There’s no single magic bullet.”

The likely final approach will be a “combination of managed lanes and operational improvements, safety improvements,” he said.

While a new light-rail line is unlikely, the Atlanta Regional Commission is working with the Transit Planning Board to consider the benefits of light rail and the region’s ability to fund a network of light-rail corridors.

Brian Borden of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority said his agency would push for light rail if a network were put in place.

“If we just do light rail on just the 285 corridor, you don’t really get the benefit of an entire system,” he said. “Just by having the ability to connect, it encourages people to ride.”

VanMeter also said lanes that can be reversed during rush hour could be a “cost-effective” option.

“We’re hoping that once the funding is all hashed out, we’ll be able to know more the direction we’re going to go in,” he said.