A $10 million promise was fulfilled May 26 by the Perimeter Center Community Improvement Districts, when its leaders handed over a check for its share of the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange reconstruction project.

The $10 million check in the hands of state transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry shortly after it was presented by the Perimeter Center Community Improvement Districts at a May 26 event at the Sheraton Atlanta Perimeter North hotel. (John Ruch)

State transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry picked up the $10 million – an actual, slightly wrinkled bank check, not one of those giant publicity props – from the PCIDs at a Perimeter Business Alliance lunch at the Sheraton Atlanta Perimeter North hotel. Demonstrating the breadth of the PCIDs’ transportation interests, the lunch also featured a panel discussion on alternative ways to connect commuters to local MARTA stations.

Four years ago, the PCIDs – two self-taxing business districts in Perimeter Center – pledged the $10 million in cash and another $500,000 in planning assistance to the 285/400 project. That was a drop in what turned out to be a roughly $460 million bucket, but the pledge gave political momentum to Gov. Nathan Deal to fast-track the stalled project. The interchange reconstruction, intended to reduce traffic congestion and crashes, is now underway and is scheduled to wrap up in 2020.

“I can tell you, this project wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you,” McMurry told the PCIDs, saying the donation was of “national significance” in an era of increasing public-private partnerships on infrastructure projects.

From left, state transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry accepts the $10 million check from Diane Calloway, chair of the board for the PCIDs’ Fulton County side, as Perimeter Business Alliance chairman Bob Voyles and Georgia Department of Transportation board members look on. (John Ruch)

In an interview afterward, while still holding the check, McMurry praised the PCIDs’ can-do attitude.

“It’s not ‘what if?’ It’s ‘how can?’” McMurry said of the PCIDs’ relationship with the Georgia Department of Transportation. “This group does not settle for ‘no.’”

Former DeKalb County CEO Liane Levetan, who chatted with McMurry, said she agreed. “They’re true visionaries,” she said of the PCIDs, praising their $10 million contribution as a “true catalyst” for the interchange project.

Reconstructing one of the state’s busiest interchanges is intended only to manage traffic congestion, since it can’t be halted altogether while there’s a population and economic boom and limited alternative transportation options. PCIDs is also one of the groups working on those alternatives.

In collaboration with the cities of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, the PCIDs recently produced a study on “last-mile connectivity” – meaning methods other that single-occupancy vehicles to easily get commuters to and from mass transit stations. A kind of master study that sorted and prioritized previous studies, while adding some new ideas, it proposes dedicated lanes for shuttles as one priority.

At the May 26 lunch, the panel discussing last-mile connectivity included: Alex Chambers, regional vice president for KDC Real Estate, developers of State Farms’ Park Center complex in Dunwoody; Garrin Coleman, the Sandy Springs Public Works director; and Ryland McClendon, MARTA’s assistant general manager for communications. A representative of the car-rental app company Uber, which has partnered with MARTA on last-mile connectivity discounts, was scheduled to participate, but he was stuck in an airport, according to PBA program manager Bill Crane.

The panelists largely recapped the last-mile connectivity study ideas. In the big picture, they emphasized that giving commuters choices, rather than a single solution, is key, and that some options are already coming.

McClendon said that coordinating transportation plans is important because “I think you have to give all [transit] riders a choice.” And studying all available options is important to stay ahead of trends, she said.

From left, Alex Chambers of KDC Real Estate; Ryland McClendon of MARTA; and Garrin Coleman of the city of Sandy Springs discuss last-mile connectivity at the May 26 Perimeter Business Alliance lunch. (John Ruch)

Coleman noted that multiuse trails are in the works, including a PATH400 segment that will be built along Peachtree-Dunwoody Road as part of the 285/400 project. Sandy Springs also is using transportation special local option sales tax money to connect that segment with the main PATH400 in Buckhead, as well as carry out other multiuse trails on such corridors as Mount Vernon Highway.

That Mount Vernon Highway concept, which Coleman said will soon go into a round of public meetings, also includes a dedicated lane on the road for some type of higher-occupancy vehicles. “That’s ride share. That’s bus. That’s all kinds of modes,” Coleman said of the concept.

While such dedicated lanes were a main proposal of the recent last-mile connectivity study, they are also challenging and controversial because they could mean converting existing travel lanes.

“Mathematically, I’m not sure how you could take away lanes and make it work” in today’s Perimeter Center, said Chambers, who is also a member of the PCIDs board that represents the DeKalb County side.

However, Chambers agreed with the multi-modal, multi-choice approach. The recently finished State Farm tower at Hammond Drive and Perimeter Center Parkway has a direct connection to the Dunwoody MARTA Station platform. Chambers said that inside its lobby there is a large screen showing the real-time status of several transportation options, including MARTA train times, highway traffic reports and the availability of Uber rides.

The public can weigh in on more last-mile connectivity planning, as the PCIDs will host a June 1 meeting about two segments of multiuse trails planned on Ashford-Dunwoody and Peachtree-Dunwoody roads.

John Ruch

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