Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and other cities will begin work on a plan for a multi-use trail system to integrate with the Georgia Department of Transportation’s plan to add toll lanes to I-285.

At a March 16 Brookhaven City Council meeting, the city approved a contract with design firm Kimley-Horn to begin work on a “Top End 285 Regional Master Trails Plan.” Brookhaven will  serve as the project manager, leading other I-285 cities such as Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Chamblee, Doraville, Smyrna and Tucker.

An overview of the new sections of the I-285 toll lanes project. The section of Ga. 400 to the north has a separate but connected toll lanes project. (GDOT)

The area’s four self-taxing Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) will also help fund the plan. Those districts are the Chamblee Doraville CID, the Cumberland CID, the Perimeter CIDs and the Tucker-Northlake CID. 

In 2019, Brookhaven and the other cities agreed to issue a request for proposals from design firms for the development of a trail system master plan. Responses to those proposals were due by April 21, 2020 and Kimley Horn’s proposal was chosen. Now that the contract has been approved, Phase 1 of the master plan is expected to be completed by September of this year, according to a city spokesperson. 

This multi-use trail would serve to connect trails in the seven cities and four CIDs and would cover almost 20 miles from Cumberland Parkway and Atlanta Road in Smyrna to Northlake Parkway and Lavista Road in Tucker. 

“We’re going to take all of the pre-existing trails and trail plans for all of the municipalities and CIDs, link them all together, and think about how we can use GDOT’s efforts and others along I-285 to really create a united, connected trail,” said Kimley-Horn representative Eric Bosman.

Brookhaven led the same group of cities in a bus rapid transit study, which explores adding bus and rail options in conjunction with GDOT’s I-285 Top End Express Lane project. Brookhaven Director of Strategic Partnerships Patty Hansen said the trail would follow along a similar route to the BRT. 

GDOT plans to add toll lanes along the top end of I-285 and on part of Ga. 400 between Sandy Springs and Alpharetta. The projects have been controversial due to the possible demolition of residential properties and highway entrances added to local streets. Construction on Ga. 400 is expected to start in 2022 and open in 2027. The eastern section of the I-285 toll lane project is also expected to start in 2022 and open in 2028. The western section of the I-285 toll lane project is expected to start in 2026 and open in 2032. 

As the administrator for the regional trail project, Brookhaven will be responsible for invoicing the other cities and CIDs, Hansen said. Brookhaven will provide $28,261 for its share of funding for the master plan and will collect $196,739 from the other cities. The total cost of the master plan will be $225,000.

Mayor John Ernst said that former District 1 DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester previously pledged $100,000 to the master plan project, which the county agreed to. Ernst said the city has not yet received those funds, but according to a city spokesperson, current District 1 Commissioner Robert Patrick is working on moving those funds to the city. 

“I fully support trail projects,” Patrick said in an email. “My office will be speaking with Brookhaven to confirm the full scope of the Top End Trail System and ensure that there is not overlap between Brookhaven efforts and other efforts in the District. There have been several discussions of trail projects throughout District 1 and my goal is to ensure that my office is strategic with taxpayer dollars and beneficial to all District 1 residents.”

Former District 7 Commissioner Kathie Gannon also pledged $30,000 to the project, but the funds did not pass during her term, said Ernst. Current District 7 Commissioner Ted Terry has taken up the mantle and is working on moving those funds. According to a spokesperson from Terry’s office, the board will view that item at its March 23 meeting. 

According to Kimley-Horn documents from the meeting, Phase 1 of creating the master plan will include initial environmental screenings, site visits and preliminary concept designs. Phase 2 would produce a full analysis report, including project maps and diagrams which show aspects such as water and topographic features. Phase 2 would also include meetings with stakeholder groups.

Ernst said the city is hoping to move as quickly as possible. According to Kimley-Horn documents, its team will be speaking with GDOT to learn more about the department’s right-of-way acquisition plans for the toll lane project and see where there might be right-of-way that is “usable and accessible based on the current I-285 Express Lane design.”

“We’re hoping to use as much GDOT-reserved land as possible,” Ernst said. 

A representative for GDOT did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.