The Georgia Department of Transportation recently released more detailed concepts for its proposed I-285 top-end toll lanes project, so potential effects on local communities are easier to see.

The designs show that more than 150 properties in Sandy Springs, Brookhaven and Dunwoody and other nearby cities could be affected or demolished by the project. GDOT also proposes adding access points that would allow drivers to enter the new lanes from city streets.

Among those following the project closely are Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch, Doraville Mayor Joseph Geierman and Dunwoody resident Robert Wolford. The Reporter asked them what they thought of the latest proposals.

Now that the proposal is a step closer to reality, what do you think of it?

Deutsch: Having watched the visualization of the managed lanes, I am amazed by the scale and scope of this project. It will forever change the landscape of metro Atlanta. I still remain unconvinced that this project will impact traffic in a meaningful way.

Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch.

Geierman: My thoughts about this project have not changed. Research has proven that adding more lanes to freeways does not solve traffic congestion. I think the taxpayer dollars being earmarked for this project would be more effective if they were spent building out other forms of mobility – including mass transit and bike/pedestrian paths. That said, this project is going to move forward no matter what I personally think about it. My responsibility is to ensure that whatever gets built has a minimal negative impact on (and hopefully benefits) the city of Doraville.

Wolford: I think that the “Advanced Improvement Project” proposal [to build some related non-toll lanes and ramps sooner] is very reasonable. However, I think that the toll lanes project is a colossal waste of time and money. Most people probably don’t realize, yet that the GDOT proposal is actually two different proposals for the I-285 corridor. The first, called the AIP, consists of collector-distributor lanes and rebuilding the Chamblee-Dunwoody Road bridge. It is all grade-level construction and it will serve Georgia well as a positive improvement on the top end Perimeter highway. The second, called toll lane expansion, involves elevated toll lanes that are above grade, take land unnecessarily, cost too much and won’t solve traffic problems long term.

Is there anything that you see in this version of the plan that surprised you? If so, what was it?

Geierman: I had been concerned that the toll lanes would require even more right of way acquisition along I-285 than they did and was a little surprised that relatively few businesses along the corridor were affected. I was disappointed to see businesses that I personally patronize — like Tucker Castleberry Printers and Rob Mello Acting Studio – in the path of destruction.

Wolford: What surprises me about these proposals is not what is in them, but rather what is not in them. These proposals do not include any studies. There are no sound barrier mitigation proposals. There are no greenway or multi-model pathway proposals. There are no environmental studies, including any air and water quality impacts, storm water run-off impacts, noise impacts. There are no open and honest communications occurring between GDOT officials and citizens in communities affected and impacted by GDOT proposals.

Robert Wolford.

Deutsch: The city of Dunwoody is losing an entire neighborhood. We have been aware of this for a while, but we learned at the recent meetings that an office building and three buildings at an apartment complex will be destroyed to make space for the project. There are additional impacts not yet clearly defined on other properties as well.

How can GDOT best mitigate any damage the lanes will cause local communities? What do you think they can do?

Wolford: GDOT must, at a minimum, build sound barrier protection walls prior to any construction and maintain those barrier walls during all construction. GDOT must also include greenways and pedestrian pathways between their expansion projects and impacted communities, as well as including greenways and pathways on the reconstructed Chamblee-Dunwoody bridge. And GDOT should pay for the greenways and pedestrian pathways in the impacted communities.

Deutsch: Noise walls must go up before construction begins, even if they are relocated during the process. For Dunwoody, we need the space and infrastructure to install a multi-purpose trail along I-285. When the Chamblee-Dunwoody bridge is rebuilt, there must be room for a multi-purpose trail as well as landscaping.

Geierman: I would like to see GDOT give more serious consideration to how huge infrastructure projects like the top-end toll lanes negatively impact communities. I hope that as part of this project, the state helps local governments overcome this by building in bike and pedestrian access in the affected footprint and ensuring that these new lanes do not cause more traffic problems than they were designed to solve.

Once the work is done, will the project make driving in local communities better or worse? Do you think the long-term changes it will bring will be good or bad for local communities?

Deutsch: The collector-distributor lane between Chamblee-Dunwoody Road and Ashford-Dunwoody Road should make commuting to the Perimeter area easier for Dunwoody residents. Along with other improvements the city of Dunwoody is already planning to make, this collector lane should help the flow of traffic on Chamblee-Dunwoody Road in the Georgetown area and beyond. Dunwoody is already well situated for commuters who travel by car and those who use transit. The addition of rapid bus transit as an east-west transportation option will provide some new options for our residents. This project, though, isn’t being built for metro residents who already live close-in. Rather, it is designed to benefit those who live further away from the job centers.

Doraville Mayor Joseph Geierman.

Geierman: I do not think that the toll lanes on their own will do anything to solve Atlanta’s traffic problems — the only thing that will do that is getting people out of their cars and to use other forms of transportation. I do think there’s an opportunity to utilize the toll lanes for bus rapid transit, which would provide some benefit to reducing traffic. This is not currently part of the plan, but I am hoping it makes it into the final draft.

Wolford: The Advanced Improvement Project C-D lanes will make driving better, but the toll lanes will not make driving any better long-term. The only changes that can have any long-term significant improvements to the top end Perimeter traffic challenges must include rapid transit options. Bus rapid transit and light to medium rail are the only hope for long-term good for our communities. That is why Senate Resolution 654, the resolution authored by state Sen. Sally Harrell [calling for a state Constitutional amendment to allow gas tax money to be spent on transit], is so important. SR654 will allow GDOT to fund the transit projects necessary for Georgians to live, thrive and survive.

Your Views on Toll Lanes

The Georgia Department of Transportation’s plan for toll lanes on I-285 drew little support from 78 readers who responded to an informal Reporter online survey.

Asked whether the long-term goal of speeding up highway traffic is worth impacts of taking properties and enlarging highways, about three-quarters of the respondents said no.

Thirteen respondents thought the toll lanes could be worth it if they also carry mass transit buses. Only seven respondents said toll lanes are worth the local impacts.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.