Livable Buckhead has received funding to study a controversial idea to build a new Ga. 400 interchange at East Paces Ferry Road. The interchange could have major effects on the adjacent Peachtree Park and Pine Hills neighborhoods.
One neighborhood group is already threatening to sue, while another major adjacent property owner, Lenox Square mall, says the interchange could help traffic and access.
Denise Starling, the executive director of Livable Buckhead, announced at a Buckhead Business Association meeting that her organization has received funding from the Atlanta Regional Commission to study the interchange.
The idea is controversial and is in Buckhead’s master plan for the area, “Buckhead REdeFINED,” as a concept, not a recommendation, Starling said. The ARC funding will go toward a feasibility study to see if the new interchange would work, she said.
“At this level of planning, it looks like a good idea, but we’ve got to get to the next level to make sure it would achieve the things we think it would achieve,” she said.
The idea for a new interchange came out of discussions and public meetings held when making Buckhead’s master plan, Starling said.
Buckhead currently has a single Ga. 400 interchange, at Lenox Road. Drivers with destinations in southern Buckhead take local roads back down to their destination, causing worse traffic, Starling said.
“In addition to enhancing mobility to and from Ga. 400, the new ramp would distribute traffic and reduce congestion at Buckhead’s only existing Ga. 400 interchange on north Lenox Road,” the master plan says of the interchange.
District 7 Councilmember Howard Shook, who is also on the Buckhead CID board, said the study not only has to determine if it would be beneficial, but if it could feasibly be funded.
“It will be very costly, I’m sure,” he said. “We’re definitely going to have to know what problems it solves for some neighborhoods and what problems it creates for other neighborhoods.”
Shook said he thinks it could be built only within the existing right of way. Buying up private properties would be too costly, he said.
Nancy Bliwise, the president of the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association, said her neighborhood expressed several concerns about the impact the new interchange could have on the neighborhood in master plan meetings.
“Given the need for alternative transit in Atlanta, we do not understand why a car-based, highway solution is being proposed to address traffic problems in Buckhead,” she said in an email. “It seems to be yesterday’s solution to today’s problems without considering the anticipated revolution in transportation with the advent of self-driving vehicles.”
Bliwise wants the study to consider how traffic could back up on East Paces Ferry Road and examine how navigation apps could reroute more traffic into Pine Hills as a result of the new interchange.
“We are concerned that a more limited study will miss how directing traffic off Ga. 400 at East Paces Ferry will impact our adjacent neighborhood,” Bliwise said.
Lenox Square mall could benefit from the interchange if it works as intended and reduces traffic congestion, said Robin Suggs, the manager of the mall. Suggs also serves on the board of the Buckhead Community Improvement District, which helped fund the master plan.
“We are in support of any project that would help relieve Buckhead traffic congestion and improve upon traffic flow. Regarding the potential impact to area businesses, eliminating traffic congestion would certainly serve to benefit all of Buckhead,” Suggs said in an email.
Cathy Muzzy, the president of the Peachtree Park Civic Association, said the neighborhood would sue if an interchange ramp was proposed for Peachtree Park, which is on the west side of Ga. 400. East Paces Ferry Road runs directly through the neighborhood.
“It would destroy the neighborhood,” she said. “They can study it all they want. If they try to run if through the neighborhood, we will sue them.”
North Buckhead is one of the neighborhoods that could benefit from the new interchange, said Gordon Certain, the president of the North Buckhead Civic Association. Cars come farther north than they need to into North Buckhead since the only interchange is there, he said.
“Today those cars clog up traffic by coming north to go south again,” he said.
The neighborhood could see an improvement of traffic on Lenox Road, he said.
“A traffic study is clearly needed to quantify the likely impact on the various parts of the area and is especially important to let the Pine Hills neighborhood have a better idea whether or not that interchange will have a particularly negative impact on their part of Buckhead,” Certain said.