The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) Transform 285/400 project, a complete redevelopment of the Interstate 285/Georgia 400 interchange in Sandy Springs, will finally be finished next year.
It will serve as a key cog for its other projects in every direction.
“In the second quarter next year we’ll start on the diverging diamond interchange on Abernathy Road,” GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said of one part of the $800 million project. “This is just the first of many projects where we’re moving the needle on mobility. We have 18 projects (completed, under way or planned) totaling $11 billion, including four interchange projects.”
McMurry spoke on that topic and more at the Rotary Club of Buckhead’s weekly lunch meeting Dec. 2 at Maggiano’s Little Italy in Buckhead. Transform 285/400, whose construction started in February 2017, has been delayed and won’t be completed until late 2020.
That project will pave the way for GDOT to add express lanes north on 400 from the North Springs MARTA Station to about a mile north of McFarland Parkway in Forsyth County, as well as another set of express lanes on the top end of 285 from Paces Ferry Road in Cobb County east to Henderson Road in DeKalb County.
The 400 project, which will cost at least $1.8 billion, is expected to be completed in 2027. The 285 one, which will cost of at least $5 billion and has been split into east and west metro projects, is scheduled to be finished in 2029 and 2032, respectively. The east metro project also includes express lanes being added from 285 to the North Springs station.
To the south, the Path400 Greenway Trail, a multiuse path along 400 that will connect to the BeltLine on its southern end and runs through Buckhead, is about 80% complete and will extend into Sandy Springs and go under the 285/400 interchange. The project, which is partly funded by GDOT, will eventually connect to other cities to the north, east and west of the interchange.
Regarding the express lanes, McMurry said GDOT has been pleased with the results of the lanes it’s already opened in other parts of metro Atlanta, especially ones that opened in September 2018 in the northwest corridor (75 and 575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties).
“What we’ve seen from these express lanes has been transformative to say the least,” he said, adding those northwest corridor lanes had over 7 million trips in their first year. “… Those people are driving speed limit plus, plus, which is about 70 mph or faster. Those people have had 30- to 45-minute travel time savings on each trip. … By driving in the express lanes, you free up a spot for people driving in the normal lanes. That means traffic is now 10 to 15 mph faster in the regular lanes.”
In an interview after his speech, McMurry was asked what he would say to the more than 300 homeowners who likely will have to lose some or all of their property as GDOT uses right-of-way acquisitions to pave the way for the 400 and 285 express lanes projects.
In any transportation project or expansion project, that’s a very tough situation because that’s people’s homes,” he said. “They have an emotional attachment just like anybody has, to their home. But it’s part of having to serve the greater good for almost 10 million Georgians and 6 million people here in metro Atlanta.”
McMurry added GDOT will work with property owners to negotiate a fair price for their land and/or homes and will only use eminent domain as a last resort.
As for other future endeavors, McMurry said GDOT already has about 400 talking traffic lights in specific corridors in the state, with plans to expand to 1,700. In November GDOT hosted a Smart Vehicle Tech Challenge where companies from all over the world competed for a $75,000 prize by translating “GDOT traffic light data into safety applications that can be used to support autonomous vehicles of the future,” according to a news release.
“It will tell cars what not to do,” McMurry said of the lights’ technology. “It will tell you not to run that red light. It will tell you if you can make it through that yellow light. But it’s smart. It won’t tell you to go 150 mph down Peachtree (Road). … It will tell you if somebody pushes the button to cross the street.”
He also said GDOT will be involved with the funding of Hub404 (previously named the Park Over Georgia 400), the greenspace to be built on top of 400 in Buckhead and completed in 2025. But he doesn’t yet know what that amount will be for the park that is expected to cost up to $250 million.
“We certainly have been working with the (Buckhead Community Improvement District) early on for years now and certainly doing technical reviews and basically facilitating what they’re doing going forward,” he said. “So I think that’s to be determined. There’s different fund sources available that could be used. So I think it’s one of those things that as the project moves forward, it will be determined.”
McMurry was praised for his leadership in handling the I-85 bridge fire and collapse in 2017 by having that portion of the highway replaced within only six weeks. But the state transportation board was criticized afterwards for giving him a $100,000 raise, which, following a $65,000 pay increase in 2016, was deemed excessive and bumped his salary up to $350,000.
In a Q&A after his speech, one audience member asked McMurry when the Northside Drive bridge next to the Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead would be rebuilt and if the old bridge would be closed for six months.
“That’s actually the accelerated version. It’s a constrained site with a lot of utilities, the park and the golf course. We’re going to ask for people’s patience,” he said, adding he wasn’t sure of the start date. According to GDOT’s website, construction on the bridge is expected to begin in January, but the bridge detour will start in spring 2021 and the project will be finished by August 2021.