Miguel Cornejo remembers when only two lanes of Ga. 400 carried traffic in each direction north and south. He recalls the wide grass median that divided the road then.
He and his family moved into the Spalding Woods subdivision in 1981. His house stands across the street from houses that back up to the highway. In the early days, he said, when his wife drove their children to swim practice, “she was the only one going north” on Ga. 400.
Things have changed. The two lanes of Ga. 400 headed in either direction became four, then five as during the peak travel hours the road’s shoulders are now open to commuter traffic, he said. Nowadays, traffic on Ga. 400, Cornejo said, is “unbelievable.”
“When I walk my dog on this [nearby] road,” he said, pointing to a side street near his home, “I use earphones in my iPod and I can feel Ga. 400 right at my feet.”
That’s why he joined more than 200 residents Nov. 18 who gathered at St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church to look over the proposed changes the Georgia Department of Transportation plans for a stretch of Ga. 400 in Sandy Springs and for the interchange between Ga. 400 and I-285. Cornejo wanted to tell DOT officials they needed to install noise barriers between the road and his neighborhood.
“I’m saying they needed sound barriers a long time ago,” he said. “They need sound barriers all the way to Northridge [Road]. Most of these areas do not have sound barriers.”
Other residents offered other suggestions or questions for the DOT officials who unveiled new wall maps of a proposed network of “collector and distributor” roads they propose building to get local traffic off Ga. 400 in hopes of easing traffic tie-ups.
Their plans for the collector/distributor system call for about $330 million of construction along Ga. 400 from Hammond Road to just north of Spalding Drive. The project ties into a major transformation planned for the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange. The overall project is expected to cost about $1 billion.
GDOT officials showed some proposed changes in the collector/distributor system since their last public presentation earlier this year. The new plans, GDOT spokeswoman Marlo Clowers said, add local traffic lanes alongside Ga. 400, include a “diverging diamond” interchange at Abernathy Road and a new design for the “flyover bridge” exit for the North Springs MARTA station.
GDOT officials hope to start construction on the project in 2016 and complete the job in 2019.
Cornejo welcomes the work. “The project itself, I’m all for it,” he said. “Ga. 400’s intersection with I-285 is a mess. Ga. 400 needs that project. Ga. 400 is a big parking lot at peak hours.”
Others Sandy Springs residents at the meeting agreed. “My sense is it’ll be an improvement,” said Ronny Broyles, who lives and works at locations along the stretch of Ga. 400.
“Any effort they make will be an improvement,” Broyles said. “Sometimes, it’s a nightmare. These feeder lanes will be food for the folks who work [nearby]. … This is progress.”
Art Reid, who said he’s lived in the Spalding Drive area 20 years, said the work “seems to be necessary.”
Still, he’s not looking forward to the construction. “I think it’s going to be a big mess until it improves this,” he said. “I’m optimistic long term.”
The changes, he said, should help handle the traffic related to new office and apartment developments proposed in the area. “I believe this all seems to be necessary in order to accommodate what I perceive is going to happen,” he said.
He was encouraged by what he saw when he studied the GDOT drawings of the new interchange. He came to the public meeting to find out how much land in his neighborhood would be taken for the widening of I-285, he said. “The answer seems to be zero,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine widening a highway and not taking land. It would be nice to hold them to that.”
But his wife, Janet, found the new collector/distributor network would cut off her neighborhood’s access to I-285 and would mean it would be a longer drive for her to get to shops on Roswell Road.
“It’s only time,” she said with a shrug. “What can I say?”