Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs are joining other top end I-285 cities in a master plan intended to persuade the Georgia Department of Transportation to leave room for multiuse trails when it adds toll lanes to the highway.

The city of Brookhaven, serving as the project management team, put out a request for proposals for a “Top End 285 Regional Trails Master Plan” with responses due by April 21. Other participating cities are Chamblee, Doraville, Smyrna and Tucker.

A preliminary map of the project area for an I-285 top end regional trails master plan. (City of Brookhaven)

The four self-taxing community improvement districts in the area are also involved in funding and backing the plan: Chamblee-Doraville CID, Cumberland CID, Perimeter CIDs and Tucker-Northlake CID.

“This is a study by the metro mayors to do a high-level planned trails system along I-285, along the new lanes,” Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said. “We want to know how can we put in a trails system to connect the east and west, like a [Atlanta] BeltLine trail system.”

Ernst said the plan’s intent is to persuade the state to leave room for trails in the toll lanes design. GDOT would not be asked to pay for the trails.

“We realize funding would come mostly from a regional or city level,” Ernst said. “And with the master plan in place, developers who build along I-285 would be required to put the trails in,” he said.

GDOT says it is willing to review the plan. “We are aware that the top end cities are conducting a study to assess the feasibility of a trail system adjacent the Top End 285 project,” GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale said in an email.

“Since we have no details beyond that, we can not comment on whether GDOT would have any involvement in the proposed plan, though the department would certainly be willing to review any substantive proposals. However, we will make every effort to avoid impacting existing trail plans as our project progresses.“

Ernst led the same group of mayors in a yet-to-be-completed bus rapid transit study for the I-285 toll lanes. He said the cities agreed to also look at multiuse trails along the toll lanes project area. Doing so is one more way of taking cars off the busy interstate by offering alternative modes of transportation, he said.

GDOT plans to build toll lanes along I-285 between the city of Smyrna on the west and Henderson Road on the east in what it calls its “top end” project, which is part of a large metro- and statewide system in the planning stages. Despite the top-end terminology, the project also includes toll lanes on Ga. 400 between the Glenridge Connector and the North Springs MARTA Station.

GDOT said in October it delayed the project until at least 2023, though some free lanes, ramps and bridge replacements for the project would be built sooner. The cities believed the delay was a good time to work on a trail plan. The intent – at least before the coronavirus pandemic – was to issue a contract and have the plan completed by the end of the year.

Some of the cities have long had trail plans in the area. Sandy Springs and the PCIDs worked with GDOT to ensure an extension of the PATH400 multiuse trail can be built along Peachtree-Dunwoody Road at the I-285 underpass as part of the current “Transform 285/400” interchange reconstruction project, which is preceding the toll lanes.

The city of Dunwoody has had plans for many years to extend its Georgetown trail behind the Georgetown Recreation Club, adjacent to I-285, to connect to Perimeter Center. That plan is on hold due to the toll lanes project.

Dunwoody and Brookhaven were involved in planning for a local trail network in recent years through a group called the Peachtree Gateway Partnership, which involved discussions for trails crossing I-285 on such roads as North Shallowford in Dunwoody.

GDOT’s plan includes replacing the Chamblee-Dunwoody Road bridge over I-285 in Dunwoody, possibly starting in mid-2022 as part of the early, free-lane improvements. City officials hope multiuse trails could be added to the new bridge as part of the master plan efforts.

The cities’ plan “should review and prioritize direct connections for people living along the corridor to vital employment, retail, and recreational destinations – providing safety, economic development, mobility, environmental, and health benefits,” according to the RFP.

The RFP requires that the plan include: boundaries and acquisition costs; a conceptual list of potential right of way impacts and the estimated total cost right of way; and information on natural resources, site suitability, special assessments, and other conditions that affect acquisition of the site or location of the boundaries.

Special emphasis on potential trails and methods for connecting the trails network across I-285 is requested in the RFP. A plan that addresses accessibility, affordability and other measures designed to ensure that the trails can be used by people with limited mobility is also requested in the RFP.

As part of the plan, the RFP asks for recommendations on wayfinding signage and a branding plan, indicating the types of signs, general locations along the trails corridor and cost estimates, along with a plan to market the trails.

The plan should include sites of potential pocket parks, scenic viewing areas, and other potential recreational opportunities along the trail, according to the RFP. The plan should include cost estimates, agency responsibilities, timelines and potential funding sources for proposed improvements.