Gov. Nathan Deal joined many other officials for a ceremonial groundbreaking for the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange reconstruction project on Nov. 3 at the Concourse Center’s “King Building” in Sandy Springs.

Major construction work will not begin until February and will never directly affect the King Building. Organizers said the groundbreaking was staged to satisfy demand from media for some type of visual ceremony, and holding it on a location along the actual highways would be difficult and dangerous.

Shoveling dirt for the I-285/Ga. 400 reconstruction groundbreaking ceremony Nov. 3 at the Concourse Center were (from left) state Rep. Tom Taylor; Jay Roberts, director of planning at the Georgia Department of Transportation; GDOT board vice-chair Jamie Boswell; Georgia Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Christopher Tomlinson; GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry; Gov. Nathan Deal; GDOT board member Mark Burkhalter; state Sen. Fran Millar; GDOT board member Rudy Bowen; Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul; and Daniel Filer, vice president of business development at Ferrovial Agroman USA, one of main partners on the project’s contractor team. (Photo John Ruch)

Deal and other officials spoke in a vacant office space, decorated with construction signs and traffic cones, on the skyscraper’s 32nd floor, which offered sweeping views of the tangled interchange far below. They then went to a small lawn next to the building and used golden shovels to toss dirt that had been shipped in and piled onto a tarp.

The remarks from various officials largely repeated information and praise they have delivered at previous announcements and speaking engagements about the massive highway project.

Gov. Nathan Deal speaks at the I-285/Ga. 400 groundbreaking ceremony Nov. 3 at the Concourse Center. (Photo John Ruch)

“This is indeed the heart of much of [the region’s] growth and much of the congestion,” said Deal, sporting a red necktie decorated with white silhouettes of the state of Georgia.

He praised the project’s public-private financing and design-while-building models for saving large amounts of money. Not counting right of way acquisition and other extra costs, the project is budgeted at around $460 million, far under the $803 million the state originally estimated.

Deal said that the Georgia Department of Transportation is regularly contacted by officials around the country asking, “How did you get to be so progressive…and so far ahead?” in road infrastructure build-outs.

The view of the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange from the 32nd floor of the Concourse Center’s “King Building.” (Photo John Ruch)

In perhaps the event’s largest boast, GDOT board member and former Georgia House Speaker Mark Burkhalter likened the project to the previous night’s dramatic baseball game, saying the Chicago Cubs “may have won the World Series of baseball, but I think Georgia won the World Series today of investing in our future and our infrastructure.”

GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry, as he has many times before, touted the project’s intended benefits of reducing congestion and traffic accidents. Pointing to the event decorations, he also gave some fair warning about the upcoming three-plus years of construction.

Organizers set up the golden shovels for the Nov. 3 I-285/Ga. 400 groundbreaking on a lawn at the Concourse Center. (Photo John Ruch)

“The cones you see in front of us today—get ready to see more and more cones,” he said.

Among the many other leaders in attendance were: Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal; Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul; Sandy Springs City Councilmembers John Paulson and Gabriel Sterling; Brookhaven City Councilmember Linley Jones; Mike Davis, former mayor of Dunwoody and now chief of staff to DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester; former DeKalb CEO Liane Levatan; state Senators Hunter Hill and Fran Millar; state Rep. Tom Taylor; and former Perimeter Community Improvement Districts president and CEO Yvonne Williams.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul speaks to reporters after the Nov. 3 I-285/Ga. 400 groundbreaking ceremony at the Concourse Center. (Photo John Ruch)

Besides rebuilding the interchange to improve traffic flow and capacity, the project will add “collector-distributor lanes”—physically separated exit and entrance lanes—to Ga. 400 north to Sandy Springs’ Spalding Drive and to I-285 between Sandy Springs’ Roswell Road and Ashford-Dunwoody Road in Dunwoody and Brookhaven. The Ga. 400/Abernathy Road interchange in Sandy Springs will be rebuilt as a “diverging diamond,” in which traffic flow changes in time with traffic lights to move cars faster.

When construction starts, it will happen in phases and stages that will last more than three years, into mid-2020.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.