A new interchange for highway toll lanes in Sandy Springs would demolish eight homes and cost an additional $23 million, the Georgia Department of Transportation told the City Council at its Jan. 22 retreat.
The city had argued against GDOT’s earlier proposal a year ago to build the interchange on Mount Vernon Highway, favoring Hammond Drive instead. The city and GDOT have been working to come up with an alternative, which resulted in the suggested option on Crestline Parkway.
GDOT is willing to consider the option and present it to the public at future input meetings, but would need a commitment from the city that it or another party would fund the cost difference, said Tim Matthews, a GDOT project manager.
GDOT is working on two projects that 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.
The project is becoming more controversial as residents grow frustrated with the lack of information provided by GDOT about how much private property might be bought or seized for the new toll lanes.
Most of the Ga. 400 toll lane project is farther along in planning, but the southern piece of the highway has been moved into the I-285 toll lane project, giving the city more time to make the decision, Matthews said. Public open houses are not expected to begin for the I-285 project until later this year, but meetings for the Ga. 400 project are beginning in February.
The I-285 Top End Express Lanes project, estimated to cost close to $5 billion, would add two new elevated, barrier-separated express lanes in both directions on I-285, alongside regular travel lanes. Construction is expected to begin in 2023. The Ga. 400 project would add similar toll lanes in a project estimated to cost $1.2 billion and begin construction in 2021.
The overall toll lanes project would require several other interchanges on local roads, the possible locations of which were discussed by the council a year ago. At the Jan. 22 meeting, Matthews did not discuss any other proposed interchanges, and none have been discussed at recent public meetings held by the Fulton County School System and Dunwoody residents. The city had told GDOT it was concerned using Mount Vernon as an access point for the toll lanes would increase traffic in residential areas and the already congested intersection with Abernathy Road.
Sandy Springs heavily advocated for using Hammond Drive instead, but that option has been ruled out by GDOT, as were options that would have plugged lanes into Barfield Road, which would have displaced 10 businesses and 15 residences. The elimination of those ideas boils down the options to two: using Mount Vernon as originally planned or using Crestline, which would drive up the price and displace residents.
There are townhomes, apartments and single-family residences in the area, but GDOT did not provide details on which residences would be affected.
The alternative to Mount Vernon would include putting north and south access lanes on Crestline, an L-shaped, “underutilized” road that connects Peachtree-Dunwoody Road and Mount Vernon Highway to the east of Ga. 400.
Mayor Rusty Paul showed support for the option, saying, in terms of traffic, “Our residential communities will be much less affected by the Crestline solution.”
City Manager John McDonough said the council would receive traffic studies to help it make the decision.