By John Schaffner

The Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods was informed by a senior planner with the Atlanta Regional Commission that there is no funding presently in the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) through 2013 for right-of-way purchase or construction for the long-awaited interchange completion of GA 400 at I-85.

ARC senior planner David Haynes indicated that, despite the BCN being told in November there is $29.6 million in tollway reserve funds that could be applied to the project, the current status is that the interchange project is funded in the long-range Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and is scheduled to begin around 2020.

Speaking at the BCN’s Dec. 10 meeting, Haynes said the process, in the long run, “is about politics and politicians listening to the public.” Therefore, he said, “The most effective way to be an advocate for or against a project is to work through the elected officials.”

That comment came in response to a question from BCN President Jim King, who wanted to know if there was something the organization could do to move the timetable up for the project, which would complete the interchange of GA 400 to northbound I-85 and from southbound I-85 to GA 400. The ramps were part of the original plans for GA 400 but were excluded when the toll road was built. It is considered important in reducing traffic congestion in Buckhead, because GA 400 connecting traffic with I-85 now uses surface streets such as Piedmont Road and Sidney Marcus Boulevard.

At the BCN’s November meeting Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority Executive Director Gena Evans said that the authority had $29.6 million in reserves that are not now committed to any other project and must be spent for “congestion abatement, capacity enhancement, traveler information or transportation uses that benefit the GA 400 corridor.”

Evans said the funds could be committed toward completing the interchange. She also said the reserves could hit $35 million to $36 million by the time the tolls are scheduled to be removed by January 2012. She indicated the ramps could cost about $60 million.

Haynes said that essentially it does not matter if the Tollway Authority has reserve funds that could be spent on the project. “Regardless of the funds source, it has to go through the ARC as a TIP project,” he said.

Haynes explained that the ARC is strictly a planning agency and wears many hats. The ARC board has 39 members, representing a 10-county metro Atlanta area. However, one of its major functions is the Metropolitan Planning Organization process, which involves all of 13 counties and parts of five others.

The long-term RTP includes a minimum of 20 years of projects and is updated every four years. It has to include every project that uses federal funds and any transportation project considered significant.

He said the TIP is a subset of the RTP and is more detailed about the projects. It is a $67 billion plan with about 60 percent in maintenance of existing systems. New projects account for less than 40 percent of the plan.

He said the next Atlanta Regional Plan is for 2040. It will go through an assessment of everything in the present plan as well as considering new projects. That draft plan is scheduled to be completed by this time next year, he said.

Haynes said he did not know if the ARC has studied the long-term pluses and minuses of the GA 400/I-85 project.