By John Schaffner
The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) unveiled Feb. 26 a single concept for the addition of two connector ramps between Ga. 400 and I-85 — part of the original Ga. 400 project that was not completed 20 years ago — and the stakeholders most directly affected reacted favorably to the proposal, with some reservations.
A couple of hundred Buckhead residents and their neighbors on the south end of Ga. 400 attended the three-hour public information open house at the Cathedral of St. Philip, talking with GDOT representatives and viewing graphics of the proposed ramps that would connect southbound Ga. 400 to northbound I-85 and southbound I-85 to northbound Ga. 400.
Major Buckhead business, community and neighborhood associations blame the lack of such ramps for much of the excessive traffic on major surface streets in Buckhead. Motorists now must exit from Ga. 400 and I-85 and use Piedmont Road, Sidney Marcus Boulevard, Buford Highway and Lenox Road to make the transition between the expressways.
The Buckhead Coalition, Buckhead Community Improvement District, Buckhead Area Transportation Management Association, North Buckhead Civic Association and, most recently, Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods have lobbied GDOT for the completion of the interchange between Ga. 400 and I-85.
“We are delighted that Georgia DOT has brought this to the forefront and elevated its priority because it has been our top interest for relief of traffic congestion in Buckhead,” Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell said as he viewed the plans at the open house. “It is doable. It was promised in the original plans 20 years ago. It is something for which they already have most, if not all, of the right of way. We are just really pleased it is moving along in a positive way. I want just one time that a promise politicians make will be kept.”
Gordon Certain, the president of the North Buckhead Civic Association, said: “It is a tragedy that it never was completed to begin with. It is the biggest traffic disaster there is for Buckhead right now.”
Speaking to the proposed plan, Certain said: “It is going to be tough on Glenridge-Martin Manor because they are looking at that big ramp. It goes right in people’s backyards. But they are not going to take any houses.”
He said GDOT is going to take the ramp through a creek, “which is going to upset environmentalists.”
The most concerned person viewing the ramp proposals likely was Jan Rawlings, the president of the Glenridge-Martin Manor neighborhood, which borders the south side of I-85 just west of Cheshire Bridge Road.
“Compared to some of the preliminary concepts, I think this plan is preferable,” Rawlings said. “It is still less than the ideal that we are looking for.”
Rawlings said her neighborhood was “hoping for lower design speeds for two reasons: It would require less land acquisition and the noise. We still have concerns about potential environmental impact on Peachtree Creek that is subject to flooding and how that will impact the flood plain. And we have concerns about preservation of our neighborhood.”
Sally Silver, who chairs Neighborhood Planning Unit B’s Transportation & Development Committee, said the plan “is better than it was. When one of the engineers told me that when you slow the speed down, you can entertain alternatives, I knew we were on to something.”
Referring to Glenridge-Martin Manor, she added: “Maybe now with this new attention, neighborhoods that have been trying for 10 years to get sound barriers along I-85 might get them.”
Addressing the concern about the noise generated by the high ramp, Certain said: “Down the street from my house is a big ramp that goes over Mountain Way (at Ga. 400). It is not as noisy as I thought it would be because it is up high.”