Bill Boyajan, the Fulton County School System director of land management, left, and Tim Matthews, a GDOT program manager, take questions at the Jan. 16 meeting held at Riverwood International Charter School. (Evelyn Andrews)

Following the first meeting where the Georgia Department of Transportation disappointed the audience by providing limited information, the agency added a question and answer session to the second on Jan. 16, but still did not provide the details some wanted. The meeting was organized by the Fulton County School System in response to concern that GDOT’s massive toll lane project could take land at local schools.

“They made an attempt, but they obviously still didn’t answer everybody’s questions,” said school board member Gail Dean, who was among the officials that asked for the meeting. “We still don’t have drawings that should be available.”

GDOT had disappointed the audience at the previous meeting, taking no direct questions and offering fewer details than already had been shown in a private presentation to Fulton County Schools. Instead, GDOT essentially presented a Toll Lanes 101 lecture and sales pitch for a series of future meetings that it says will have some of the desired information, which it repeated at the second meeting.

GDOT privately has shown estimated right of way impacts on several Fulton public schools and other district property to the school system, but, like at the Feb. 14 meeting, that was not shown or discussed.

The project would add four new toll lanes, called “express lanes” or “managed lanes,” along I-285 and Ga. 400 in the Perimeter Center area over the next decade, with the intent of improving overall traffic flow. Parts of the project are expected to be elevated toll lanes to use existing right of way. The Ga. 400 lanes also would carry a new MARTA bus rapid transit route.

Several residents became agitated during the question and answer period that GDOT had not addressed concern that the project could impact the football field at the Riverwood International Charter School, where the meeting was held. About 150 people attended.

“There has not been one word on how this is going to affect Riverwood and our kids. Not one word,” one resident said.

Tim Matthews, a GDOT program manager who gave the presentation, which mostly included general explanations of toll lanes and the timeline, said it has not been determined how close it would be or done the required studies so he could not provide any more information.

A private presentation from the Georgia Department of Transportation to the Fulton County School System shows potential right of way impacts for the toll lanes project. (Fulton County School System)

The private presentation given to school officials had shown right of way for the project moving closer to the field and school.

Matthew said more of the specifics people are looking for, including the current concept layout, potential access point, anticipated right of way needs, will be discussed at future open houses.

The local meeting in that series is scheduled for March 12, 4:30-7:30 p.m., at Sandy Springs City Hall, 1 Galambos Way. The other meetings are Feb. 28 in Alpharetta, March 5 in Cumming and March 7 in Roswell; click here for the list of times and locations.

Trisha Thompson, a director and former president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods who criticized the first meeting, said she was still unhappy with the amount of information provided.

“I still hate it, but they were a little bit more forthcoming,” Thompson said. “I think they might have seen the emotion in this crowd for the neighborhood, home and school destruction that’s going to occur.”

Other residents brought up concerns about the possibly not having a sound barrier wall built as part of the project. Cindy Huff, a Hammond Hills resident who said GDOT has bought some of her property for the project, worried that the traffic noise that already wakes her up will get worse without a new sound wall. Another said barrier walls should be constructed to protect all schools from noise and air quality issues, which received applause.

Matthews said those studies have not been done yet and no decision has been made.

“We will do another study to analyze what we’re doing and will decide what changes are needed,” he said. 

Following the Jan. 14 meeting, a resident said GDOT presenting right of way as a vague concept or open question that could be changed pending meetings was disingenuous since it had already offered money for property in her neighborhood and shown detailed plans.

Matthews acknowledged that although the project location has not been shown to the general public, GDOT is actively acquiring right of way along the corridors to “stay in front of” possible development projects. 

Matthews said he could not share any property-specific information or provide information how close the project would come to properties.

“We just don’t have that information in front of us to answer,” he said.