Gov. Nathan Deal has announced $100 million in bond funding for new bus rapid transit connections on Ga. 400 to kick-start a regional transit expansion.

The funding makes the stations part of the Georgia Department of Transportation’s controversial plans for new toll lanes on Ga. 400 and may help sort out local concerns that the project doesn’t leave enough room for useful transit options. Bus rapid transit refers to high-capacity buses running in dedicated lanes.

Gov. Nathan Deal

Deal said in a June 19 announcement that GDOT is studying locations for four bus-only interchanges, likely near future bus stations, as shown on a sample illustration. The Fulton County Transit Master Plan, a document developed with public input last year, proposed Sandy Springs’ Northridge Road as one station location, along with some point farther north: Holcomb Bridge Road, the North Point Mall area and Old Milton Parkway.

“This investment in BRT infrastructure marks the first time that the state, Fulton County and MARTA have partnered together to improve our mass transit system,” Deal said in a press release. “With this announcement, we are introducing collaborative solutions for both transportation and transit, which is exactly what the ATL and Georgia’s commitment to improving mobility are all about.”

His general obligation bond funding follows the General Assembly’s passage earlier this year of legislation authorizing a new regional transit authority known as the ATL, which includes MARTA but also other agencies. The state money will go to planning and land acquisition for the bus interchanges. Further funding would need to come from MARTA and Fulton County if voters approved tax increases via a referendum.

In meetings last year for long-term transit planning, local residents favored extending MARTA’s Red Line rail along Ga. 400. But Fulton County and city leaders eventually agreed on bus expansion as an easier and less expensive first step.

The larger project of adding “managed” or “express” lanes – meaning separate toll lanes – to Ga. 400 has been controversial, especially to city leaders in Sandy Springs, where most of the impact would be felt. The toll lanes would follow the current “Transform 285/400” project that is redesigning that Perimeter Center interchange, adding even more lanes and ramps. Early drawings show the toll lanes on ramps that could tower 30 feet or higher over neighborhoods, eat into back yards and plug new interchanges with more traffic onto local streets.

Sandy Springs leaders have expressed concern about some proposed locations for the toll lane interchanges while suggesting others as traffic alleviations. But another city concern has been whether the project leaves room for bus rapid transit or makes it feasible to access such locations as the North Springs MARTA Station.

Ga. 400 transit expansion plays a big role in another Sandy Springs city issue – the government’s desire to spur redevelopment of the north end’s older apartment complexes and shopping centers. Future transit plans for the Northridge Road area were among the topics mentioned at last month’s debut meeting of the city’s new North End Revitalization Task Force.

Similar toll lanes are planned for I-285 as well and have raised similar concerns with cities across the top end Perimeter.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.