By John Schaffner
johnschaffner@reporternewspapers.net

The State Road and Tollway Authority held a public information meeting to show off the projects up and down GA 400 the agency plans through 2014—including the much anticipated new ramps on and off or GA 400 and I-85 and a new merge lane from GA 400 south onto I-85 south.

The problem was, there were twice as many consultants and members of the SRTA and Georgia Department of Transportation staff on hand at the Second Ponce DeLeon Baptist church Dec. 20 as local citizens who were there.

The two projects presented at the public information session for GA 400 and I-85 are already funded through issuance of bonds this year. The other proposed projects shown will be funded by through tolls generated through GA 400 traffic.

The ramps at the south end of GA 400, which will allow easy access for GA 400 traffic to I-85 north and from I-85 southbound onto GA 400 north is budget for $40 million and officials anticipate it could be done maybe for $30 million. They claim the project could be let by May 2011 and it would take three years to complete.

The newly configured merge lane from GA 400 onto I-85 southbound is anticipated to cost $500,000. That plan calls for taking the outside southbound lane and ending it by shifting it left beginning at the N. Druid Hills exist. That would provide for  a smooth lane of transition from GA 400 to I-85 south.

Several public officials in North Fulton County—including Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos and other mayors, state Rep; Ed Lindsey, State Rep. Wendell Willard and others—are threatening a court challenge to continuing the toll if the Tollway Authority and GDOT do not drop their plans to extend the toll beyond the original date for it to expire in 2011.

The good news is that the contracts for the on and off ramps at GA 400 and I-85, which were originally planned but never built, will be let in May of 2011 and construction may begin as early as six months later and be completed by 2015.

According to GDOT officials, all but two small rights-of-way for the ramp project are under contract. Albert Shelby, project manager for GDOT, said the contract for that project is expected to be let in May and then the winning bidder will have to complete the plans and work should begin with six months after that.

If the economy continues as it is now, he and others involved with the project suggested the cost could come in  under $40 million.

Asked why they held the citizen input session on the week before Christmas, Malika Wilkins, director of marketing and Communications with SRTA, said, “We are actually holding a series of five of these all up and down the corridor” culminating in January.

The public comment period began Dec. 1 and she said was extended beyond the required 30-day period, “because of the holidays. We thought people might be off work this week and they could come in and learn about the project. But, we have tried to stagger them throughout December and January.

She said there are two more scheduled, with one being held Jan 6 and the Ravinia Crowne Plaza hotel 4355 Ashford-Dunwoody Road in Dunwoody, from 4-7 p.m.

“It just sort of came up,” said Gordon Certain, president of the North Buckhead Civic Association, who was as the meeting. “I guess they have to discuss the project at some point. “It is like holding the primary elections in the summer time. You want to make sure nobody gets involved.”

He said his two favorite projects were at the top of the list and his third choice is improved maintenance. “When they don’t clean out the drains and the road floods, that is crazy.”

“These are public information sessions about the proposed projects that will be possible through extending the tolls (on GA 400) and the bonds,” said Jill Goldbe4rg, deputy press secretary for GDOT. “The two biggest projects are the I-85 and GA 400 merge and those are about $40 million Those are what the bonds were sold for. I think you will be seeing some changes within a couple of months,” she said.

John Schaffner

John Schaffner was founding editor of Reporter Newspapers.