By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

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 uses fixed paths that can follow designated lanes, high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes or city streets.

The “top end” runs along I-285 between I-75 and I-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’re in receipt of their input on an almost monthly basis.”

I-285 opened in 1969 and has evolved from a bypass with two lanes in each direction. The top end serves 200,000 to 250,000 vehicles a day.

The Transportation Department is expected to decide on Revive 285: Top End in 2010. It is assessing options ranging in expense from building nothing to installing light rail.

A transportation management strategy would include minor improvements within the corridor, upgraded local bus service and revised management techniques. A federal transit administration baseline strategy would be similar.

Substantial changes to the configuration of the corridor would take place under alternatives four through seven. In addition to BRT lanes and light rail, the possibilities include HOV lanes and truck-only lanes.

A combination of strategies also is a possibility, VanMeter said. “There’s no single magic bullet. That’s one thing that’s fairly obvious.”

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 are an option. “It’s more desirable for us to access everybody’s needs in both directions, but in the event that we can’t do that, the reversible lanes are a more cost-effective option.”