John Orr is the manager of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s transportation and mobility division.

By John Orr

John Orr

The Atlanta region is one of the largest, most dynamic metropolitan areas in the country. What will it take to ensure that we remain competitive in the coming decades, with a high quality of life?

The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) and its community partners have been working for more than a year to address this question. The result is the Atlanta Region’s Plan, a long-range blueprint that incorporates all of ARC’s planning areas – transportation, community development, water resources, aging and health services, and workforce development.

The 25-year plan focuses on three key areas: providing world-class infrastructure, building a competitive economy and ensuring the region is comprised of healthy, livable communities.

These are ambitious goals, to be sure – even more so when you consider that we’ll be adding 2.5 million people by 2040, the equivalent of metro Charlotte. But we must aim high if we are to ensure our future success.
This means fostering vibrant, walkable communities and improved housing options, including the ability for older adults to age in place. It means developing a highly educated and skilled workforce that is able to meet the needs of 21st century employers. And it means making carefully targeted investments to maintain and expand our transportation system.

The Atlanta Region’s Plan includes $86 billion in transportation spending through 2040. About two-thirds is needed to maintain our existing system. Of the rest, the plan commits: $10 billion to widen roads and improve highway interchanges by 2020; $6.5 billion to build a network of managed toll lanes, promising a reliable, free-flowing ride to commuters willing to carpool, ride a bus or pay a toll; and $12 billion for transit expansion projects.

We all know that the north Atlanta communities of Sandy Springs, Buckhead, Dunwoody and Brookhaven are home to some of the region’s worst traffic. New businesses, apartment towers and other development flocking to the area promise to bring even more vehicles to already crowded thoroughfares.
The Atlanta Region’s Plan includes a number of important transportation projects that are planned in and around the Sandy Springs, Buckhead, Dunwoody and Brookhaven areas.

In what will be one of the biggest road projects in state history, the Georgia Department of Transportation will soon begin reconstruction of the interchange at Ga. 400 and I-285. The enhancements will improve safety and traffic flow in this highly congested area. Flyover ramps will eliminate unsafe and inefficient left-hand merges, and new collector-distributor lanes will separate through traffic from vehicles that are entering and exiting via ramps on both I-285 and Ga. 400.

Looking a bit further down the road, the state DOT plans to build managed toll lanes along the Ga. 400 and I-285 “top end” perimeter corridors. The Ga. 400 project will build two managed lanes in each direction (four total) between I-285 and Holcomb Bridge Road, and one managed lane in each direction (two total) between Holcomb Bridge and McFarland Parkway in Forsyth County. The configuration for the I-285 project is still being evaluated.
These projects are programmed for the latter portion of the 25-year plan, at a combined cost of $2.4 billion.
Another key project will remake a one-mile stretch of Roswell Road just north of the Chattahoochee River. The existing reversible lane system will be removed in favor of a median-divided, four-lane roadway with a multi-use path on both sides of the thoroughfare. An additional northbound turn lane will be built at the Ga. 120 intersection.

Construction on the $22.9 million project, expected to begin by 2024, was identified through ARC’s highly acclaimed Livable Centers Initiative program.
Meanwhile, MARTA is planning an extension of the Red Line along Ga. 400. An initial phase would extend the line north to Holcomb Bridge Road with stations at Northridge and Holcomb Bridge roads. A second phase would extend to Windward Parkway in Alpharetta. Unless additional funding is secured, construction will not begin on the first phase until the latter years of the 25-year plan.

It’s important to note that there’s no way we can build our way out of congestion. Traffic is an inevitable part of a healthy, growing economy. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to improve mobility – only that the long-term solution must include a robust, truly regional transit network to give commuters new ways of bypassing the gridlock.

These are just some of the highlights of our new long-range plan. To learn more, I encourage you to visit www.atlantaregionsplan.com.
Please let us know what you think. ARC is accepting public comment about the plan through Jan. 15. You can send us an email at opinion@atlantaregional.com and take an online survey at atlantaregionsplan.metroquest.com.