After hearing concerns both from residents at open houses and from city officials, the Georgia Department of Transportation is likely to progress with two new alternatives for its Ga. 400 toll lanes project on Northridge Road and Pitts Road in Sandy Springs that will lessen the impact on the community.

GDOT Program Manager Tim Matthews presented updates for the Ga. 400 toll lanes project during a work session at a Sept. 3 City Council meeting.

A screenshot from an illustrated video released earlier this year by the Georgia Department of Transportation shows the originally proposed flyover lanes atop Northridge Road as part of the Ga. 400 toll lanes project.

Matthews says GDOT is now planning to construct toll lanes underneath the Northridge bridge, rather than building a flyover, though it is not yet a final decision.

“The Northridge Bridge will remain unchanged,” Matthews said of the new alternative.

At public information open houses held by GDOT in February and March, residents were concerned the flyover lanes would change the character of the area and bring more noise and pollution.

“There were little direct impacts, but we realized there were more concerns than the right of way that we did not see upfront,” Matthews said.

The city also sent a letter in June to the commissioner of GDOT expressing its concerns with the original plan for Northridge and Pitts.

“[Northridge Bridge] is a gateway to Sandy Springs coming from the north, and considerable effort and expense has gone into making that entry point an attractive and inviting intersection,” the letter reads.

Matthews says the right of ways impacts will increase minimally under the new alternative, encroaching on a section of the property of the Northridge Plaza office building at 8200 Roberts Drive.

“There is a balancing act,” Matthews said.

The toll lanes, still in a conceptual stage, are expected to start construction in 2021.

Pitts Road

GDOT also revealed its findings from the public comments regarding Pitts Road.

Originally, GDOT planned to build a new Pitts Road bridge as part of the project and keep the existing one open during construction. But to do that, the new bridge would be shifted, requiring four houses to be demolished

Now, GDOT is considering a second option to close the existing bridge for the six to eight months needed to rebuild it, which is preferred by both the city and the public.

“While there is an inconvenience for motorists, the alternative will keep at least four families in their homes,” the city letter said.

Matthews says that this would require more work with local police and schools on a detour strategy, something that District 1 Councilmember John Paulson sees as a small inconvenience for the bigger picture.

“I have had informal conversations with our police chief and our fire chief and…it does not sound like that’s impossible to work [through],” Paulson said at the meeting.

After discussing the impacts on commuters, GDOT will host an open house in January 2020 to hear public feedback on what the best detour options would be.

Sound barrier concerns

The letter addressed to GDOT from the city also addressed the city’s urgency in GDOT providing sound barriers for the houses positioned along the highway as early as practicable during construction. That would limit the time homeowners are directly exposed to the traffic and construction noise.

At the meeting, District 4 Councilmember Jody Reichel emphasized the city’s concerns, asking for clarification as to how GDOT decides where the walls will go, when they will be constructed and whether incentives are being given to the contractors to put them up as soon as the project starts.

Matthews says the locations are dependent on noise study and federal policy, but the community will have a chance to give input.

Matthews also says GDOT is trying to “draft the language in the contract” for developers so that they begin building the walls at the earliest possible time.

District 3 Councilmember Chris Burnett said he would like to see landscaping provided to heighten the aesthetic of the walls that will face neighborhoods, but Matthews said it is not customary.

“We are changing from a metal to a concrete wall with a decorative finish, but traditionally we do not put any landscaping,” Matthew said.