Georgia transportation officials say they are looking for a way to ease future traffic troubles on Ga. 400, but that if the solution involves new lanes, they’ll have to be toll lanes.

“We know there’s going to be growth in the 400 corridor, so something has to be done,” Mark McKinnon, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said during a public meeting at First Baptist Church of Sandy Springs on March 20.

Transportation officials held the meeting, along with similar gatherings in Cumming and Roswell, to solicit public ideas on what the state should do about Ga. 400 between I-285 and Ga. 20 in Forsyth County.

Charts displayed at the Sandy Springs gathering show DOT officials found travel times during peak traffic periods on that 24-mile stretch averaged about 30 minutes in 2010 but will in 2040 increase to about 85 minutes going south and nearly two hours heading north.

“Eventually, something’s got to happen,” said Sharon Burt of Brookhaven, who commutes four to five miles a day on Ga. 400. “I’m lucky I don’t have to drive on 400 that much. I would never use the toll lane.”

Others at the Sandy Springs public meeting also questioned the use of tolls. Garland Favarito of Roswell stood outside the church passing out flyers attacking state officials for the handling of the current toll on Ga. 400. He said the 50-cent toll should not have been extended after it raised the money needed to pay for the construction of the highway.

“There’s a lot of distrust about where they should use the toll because the Ga. 400 toll booth was not handled with integrity,” he said. “That has turned people against this project.”

State officials say they don’t have a specific project in mind for Ga. 400 now, but that one could be developed soon. And, if any new lanes are built, they will be paid for with tolls.

“What [people] really want is a new land that is not tolled,” McKennon said. “The problem is there’s no money to build it.”

McKinnon said people attending the gatherings also objected to turning existing lanes into toll lanes  in order to manage traffic. DOT has no plans  to do that, he said, and will only use tolls to add new lanes.

The Sandy Springs gathering drew the smallest crowd of the three public meetings about the issue, officials said. About 130 attended the Roswell meeting and about 100 showed up in Cumming. Fewer than 50 had been logged in at Sandy Springs about a half hour before the meeting was to close.

Some of the people who attended the Sandy Springs meeting argued that mass transit could provide better solutions on Ga. 400 than adding toll lanes. “Work with MARTA” and “build MARTA to the [Fulton County] border” were among suggestions written on a table-top banner set up so attendees could record their comments on it.

“I’m like a lot of people that are tired of the infighting,” Burt said. “MARTA should go to Northpoint and Windward [in Alpharetta]. That line should have been extended 10 years ago. Given the toll, I’d rather pay and ride MARTA and be able to read the paper instead of having to drive my car.”

McKinnon said most people at the meetings, however, seemed to  think new lanes will be necessary. At least some at the Sandy Springs meeting agreed.

“They definitely need to widen it,” said Margueritte Jackson of Dunwoody.

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Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.