By John Schaffner

Photo by John Schaffner- The Buckhead Coalition’s Garth Peters, at right, discusses the GA 400 ramp plan with Albert Shelby, state DOT project manager.

Contracts are to be let in May for the long-anticipated on/off ramps to connect Ga. 400 traffic to I-85 northbound and traffic from I-85 southbound to Ga. 400.

Construction on the $40 million project could begin six months after that, according to State Road and Tollway Authority officials.

At the same time, the Georgia Department of Transportation also will restripe I-85, beginning just south of the Druid Hills Road overpass, to provide an improved merge lane from Ga. 400 to southbound I-85.

The State Road and Tollway Authority held a public information meeting to show off projects up and down Ga. 400 the agency plans through 2014—including two projects in Sandy Springs at Abernathy and Northridge roads—but only a handful of citizens showed up for the Christmas week show-and-tell.

There were twice as many consultants and members of the authority and DOT staff on hand Dec. 20 in the cavernous room at the Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Buckhead to talk about the projects as there were people to listen and provide their opinions.

The two main projects presented at the public information session for the southern end of Ga. 400 at I-85 are already funded through issuance of bonds in 2010.

The other 11 proposed projects shown will be funded by tolls collected from Ga. 400 traffic. A 12th item on the list was increased maintenance on Ga. 400.

House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey said the GOP House leadership is exploring legislative action to rescind the 10-year Ga. 400 toll extension that is supposed to pay for the proposed Ga. 400 projects.

Lindsey, a Republican in the 54th House District who represents a large portion of Buckhead, said “we’re not sure what can be done at this point, but we’re certainly going to take a look.”

The tollway authority and transportation boards voted in September to extend the 50-cent toll, which had been scheduled to expire in 2011. The toll was continued until 2020 to pay for Ga. 400 improvement projects.

Lindsey was among several GOP House leaders who signed a letter sent to Gov. Sonny Perdue and the DOT asking for a reversal of the September decision. Others included as signers of the letter were State Rep. Wendell Willard, who also is the city attorney for Sandy Springs, Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos and other north Fulton mayors and state legislators.

The ramp project at the south end of Ga. 400, which will allow easy access for Ga. 400 traffic to I-85 north and from I-85 southbound onto Ga. 400 north—is budgeted for $40 million. Officials anticipate it may be done for $30 million. They claim the project could be let by May and it would take three years to complete. Brian McHugh, a planner with the Buckhead Community Improvement District, said the work on improving the merge lane of Ga. 400/I-85 southbound “will have a significant effect on congested surface streets.”

Albert Shelby, project manager for DOT, said the contract for that project is expected to be let in May and then the winning bidder will have to complete the plans. Work should begin within six months, he said. If the economy continues as it is now, he and others involved with the project suggested the cost could come in under $40 million.

The two planned projects in the Sandy Springs/Dunwoody area involve extending the northbound on-ramp to Ga. 400 at Abernathy Road and improvements to the interchange at Northridge Road, Dunwoody Place, Roberts Drive and Somerset Court.

The public comment period began Dec. 1. Malika Wilkins, communications manager with the tollway authority, said it was extended beyond the required 30-day period, because of the holidays.

“We thought people might be off work this week and they could come in and learn about the project,” she said. “But, we have tried to stagger them throughout December and January. “

Other public hearings are to be held Jan. 5 at the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce in Alpharetta and Jan 6 at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia hotel, 4355 Ashford-Dunwoody Road, in Dunwoody.

“These are public information sessions about the proposed projects that will be possible through extending the tolls (on Ga. 400) and the bonds,” said Jill Goldberg, deputy press secretary for DOT.