By John Schaffner

Gena Evans, executive director of the Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority told members of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods Nov. 12 that the authority has $29.6 million in reserves which could be committed toward completing the interchange of Georgia 400 and I-85 North.

Evans told the group of almost 20 people at the BCN’s annual meeting that those funds are not now committed to any other project and the excess toll revenues must be spent for “congestion abatement, capacity enhancement, traveler information or transportation uses that benefit the Georgia 400 corridor.”

She said the reserves could hit $35 million to $36 million by the time the tolls are scheduled to be removed from the road by January 2012.

She indicated that the proposed new ramps connecting Georgia 400 to I-85, which she predicted would cost around $60 million by the time they are built, would qualify for the use of those funds.

Cost estimates have ranged from $40 million to $100 million to complete the interchange.

News that the $29.6 million in SRTA reserves could be used to complete the Georgia 400/I-85 interchange was well received by almost all at the BCN annual meeting. The Buckhead neighborhoods have been lobbying for the ramp work for years to reduce the amount of traffic that now uses Piedmont Road and Sidney Marcus Boulevard to make connections between the two roads.

However, one person, Jane Rawlings, president of the Lindridge Martin Manor neighborhood that straddles I-85 and would be in the shadow of the interchange ramps, spoke against completion of them. She would prefer the money be used for transit.

Evans said there remains about $17 million in bond debt to be paid on Georgia 400. The last payment is due in July 2011 and the present contract with the city of Atlanta calls for the toll to be removed six months later.

The fiscal year 2009 revenues from all sources on the toll road were $20,060,677, with $11,831,746 coming from the automatic coin machine and manual lanes, 7,631,800 in Cruise Card revenue and $591,927 from toll violation fines.

Evans explained that the authority board—governed by a five-member board headed by Gov. Sonny Perdue—is investigating three scenarios for the future of the toll road:

(1) Remove the tolls as planned between July 2011 and January 2012;

(2) Keep the tolls on Georgia 400 (possibly even increase the tolls); or,

(3) Remove the tolls as scheduled and then re-toll in the future.

The SRTA executive director indicated she likely would favor continuing the tolls to pay for the completion of the interchange at Georgia 400 and I-85.

Evans referred to Georgia 400 as “our beachfront property,” saying it is the only one that will pay for itself. Evans said 95 percent of the state’s toll funds come from Georgia 400 and they can only be used in that corridor.

She did say a transit project in the corridor would qualify for the funds.

“If we don’t do something about transit in the next five years,” Evans said, “we will be so far behind we will never catch up.”

Evans explained that the SRTA is an independent authority created to operate tolled facilities in the state and act as the transportation financing arm for the state.