Dominic Zaccheo said something should be done to relieve traffic on Georgia 400, but the Georgia Department of Transportation's proposed $1.8 billion express/bus rapid transit lanes project may not be the best solution.
"It's hard to say because my emotions are really high right now," said Zaccheo, who lives on Northgreen Drive in Sandy Springs' Spalding Woods subdivision on the west side of 400, where 20 houses are to be acquired by GDOT as part of the plan (though his home is not expected to be acquired for the project), with 20 more expected to be taken on the east side of 400. "I believe the project could have taken into consideration less of an impact on the people that surround the project. It's probably needed. Traffic is somewhat bad on 400, but the impact it's having, the way it was presented to the neighbors, the transparency that really hasn't been available, that I've seen (concerns me)."
Zaccheo was one of over 100 individuals who attended the last of GDOT's five public open house meetings March 12 at City Springs in Sandy Springs. Four other meetings were held in Alpharetta, Cumming and Roswell starting Feb. 28. GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale said the agency had more than 50 subject matter experts on hand at the Sandy Springs meeting to answer residents' questions.
The project is part of a plan that calls for adding 65 miles of lanes to a 16-mile stretch of 400, north from Interstate 285 to the Forsyth County line (two new lanes on each side of the highway). GDOT is partnering with MARTA on the bus-rapid transit portion of the project.
It is a component of the state's 11-project Major Mobility Investment Program announced by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2016.
This project proposes to widen and construct express lanes on an about 16-mile section of 400 from the North Springs MARTA station (Exit 5C) in Fulton to about 0.9 miles north of McFarland Parkway (Exit 12) in Forsyth. The express lanes south of the MARTA station will be added starting in 2023, after the 400/Interstate 285 interchange improvement project is completed in 2020. The proposed express lanes are expected to improve mobility and travel time reliability along the 400 corridor.
Between 40 and 50 homes could be acquired by GDOT as part of the project, said Tim Matthews, program manager for GDOT’s Major Mobility Investment Program. Likely all of them are in Sandy Springs, where its neighborhoods abut 400 for most of its path from the North Springs station to Northridge Road, where the express lanes will move from outside the current 400 lanes to inside them, since there are less homes and properties in the right-of-way along 400 north of Northridge.
Matthews said GDOT has done what it could to minimize the number of houses and properties being acquired for the project, based on its design.
Though his home is being spared from the project's path, Zaccheo argued it will be impacted nonetheless. He also said he knows many of the neighbors who will sell their homes to GDOT for the project.
"I asked questions of project managers today and I get answers like, 'Well, that was the best concept we had,'" Zaccheo said. "'Were there alternatives?' I asked. They said there were some alternatives but I get no notes or information about what those are. The thinking was, in regards to taking homes there, was there any other way, but you don't get (all) the answers. It's very frustrating. It's going to impact the home values for people, whether you can sell, whether you can move. Then, obviously, the impact it's had on the neighbors, especially the way it was dumped on them. They went to a meeting thinking it was going to be about a sound barrier (being built) and they look at the red dots up there showing where they're going to take your house."
Northgreen homeowners were informed by GDOT at a Feb. 7 private meeting at the Fulton County's North Service Center in Sandy Springs their houses would be acquired by the state as part of the project. In late February interviews with the Neighbor, four of the residents said they were surprised by the news, adding they thought the meeting was about a 400 sound barrier being installed near their homes.
“We kind of got blindsided that they would take the whole house,” Marco Gomez said. “It’s been a nightmare. … I don’t know if we can find a house that’s brand new (at a similar price). It’s tough to find something this size for the price we want.”
Back at the open house meeting, other residents interviewed by the Neighbor said they agreed with Zaccheo.
Sam Chiarella, who lives on Mabry Road in Spalding Woods, said his home is not expected to be acquired by GDOT.
"The little I've seen of it so far, I'm not too enthused with it," he said, adding the meeting was the first time he's learned about the project. "We did a big stormwater project for Mabry Road for nine months and just finished it this past year. I don't really want to start another one."
Though his home is not in the path of the project, Chiarella said it will be impacted in other ways.
"The noise level, sound, mess, it's impacting my (home)," he said.
Wolfgang Osmerg, who lives across the street from Chiarella, said his home is also not being acquired by GDOT under the current project design, but added the plan will have a negative effect on Spalding Woods.
"It's already extremely noisy," he said. "We live about a quarter of a mile away from 400. Because they cut (down) some trees, you can see cars moving left and right (on 400), and I think it will have a negative impact on home prices. There's no doubt about it because who's going to pay full price for a location that's close to a major highway, with all the traffic, with all the noise? So I don't think it's positive."
Steve Smilie, who lives on Spindlewick Drive in Sandy Springs, on the east side of 400, said his home won't be acquired by the project, but nearly a handful of properties in his neighborhood will be. He added he's concerned for his neighbors who will lose all or part of their properties to the project.
"Three or four houses have back yards that are impacted. One house will be purchased," Smilie said, but he added the project may be the solution to 400's traffic woes. "I understand the need for express lanes. Anybody who drives on 400 knows there are serious issues with the traffic we have."
Zaccheo said he hopes GDOT will continue to get input from residents on the project and make design changes as needed to address the problems it's causing for the neighborhoods.
"I think there needs to be more public meetings where questions could be asked," he said. "I think in an open forum like this, it's one thing to get an explanation, but I think the public needs to get deeper (information) from people who are responsible for (project) decisions and to get more information."
For more information on the project, visit www.dot.ga.gov/DS/GEL/SR400.