The Georgia Department of Transportation is hoping to alleviate traffic in the top end of I-285 that touches Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs with new elevated express lanes slated to begin construction in 2023, but where new access points from those express lanes will be constructed remains a concern for these cities.

Dunwoody City Manager Eric Linton last month sent a letter to Tim Matthews, senior design build project manager for GDOT, stating it is “critical for the managed lane network to have multiple, geographically distributed access points into the Perimeter market.”

The new “managed lanes” for Ga. 400 run on elevated ramps in this sample concept design from the Georgia Department of Transportation. (Special)

One of those proposed access points is already a point of contention. The city of Sandy Springs has asked GDOT to move a proposed access point at Mount Vernon Road to Hammond Drive. But moving the access point to Hammond Drive will likely result in more traffic on Dunwoody’s surface streets, according to Dunwoody Public Works Director Michael Smith.

“We think there needs to be something further north than Hammond,” he said.

Instead, Dunwoody is supporting a managed lane interchange between Ga. 400 and Riverside Drive to help further disperse traffic in the region, according to Linton.

“Without such an interchange, traffic may flow unnecessarily into the Perimeter Center surface streets,” Linton stated in his letter to GDOT.

Sharon Kraun, spokesperson for Sandy Springs, said the city is working closely with all stakeholders to determine the best site for access points.

“The city is working closely with its partners including GDOT, the city of Dunwoody and Perimeter Community Improvement Districts (PCID) to explore options on where to locate access points for GDOT’s managed lane program,” she said in an email. “As options are evaluated, city staff will share this information with the city council and community and seek feedback.”

The behind-the-scenes tensions about the managed lane plans came to light at the Sandy Springs City Council’s Jan. 23 retreat, where GDOT officials presented the latest concepts and city transportation planners pushed back with counterproposals including moving the proposed managed lanes interchange from Mount Vernon to Hammond Drive.

GDOT spokesperson Jill Goldberg said at the time the agency will do “aggressive outreach” once it has what it considers to be a more solid plan. The Mount Vernon interchange, for example, was proposed relatively recently and is still being studied by engineers.

At a recent Brookhaven City Council meeting, GDOT’s Tim Matthews also addressed some of the city’s concerns about access points raised by Mayor John Ernst in a letter to GDOT.

“This project has major implications and impacts on the adjacent cities given the addition of access points that are not part of the existing highway interchanges,” Ernst said in his letter.

“We want to be assured that any Brookhaven access point does not result in exasperating localized traffic congestion as commuters from neighboring cities come into Brookhaven to access I-285 managed lanes,” he said.

Brookhaven also shares Dunwoody’s concerns about the distribution of access point west of Ga. 400, Ernst said.

“[I]t appears the planned locations will result in commuters driving into the congested Perimeter area just to access the I-285 managed lanes to go toward I-75 or I-85,” Ernst added.

The I-285 top end express lanes are still in the preliminary stages and nothing has been set in stone, but GDOT is already acquiring right-of-way where needed and is expected to begin the design process in 2020, Matthews told Brookhaven council members. There will be more time for public input as well, he said.

The managed lanes are a separate project from Transform 285/400 project that would add even more lanes — four on each highway — in construction that could take a decade. The concept of the project is to allow toll-paying drivers to speed through the interchange in dedicated, entirely separate lanes, and is being touted by GDOT as a reliable way to get to where motorists want to go on time.

The elevated lanes near the proposed interchanges are GDOT’s way to reduce taking city right-of-way, Matthews told Brookhaven council members.

The current proposed managed lane interchanges, or access points, provide three access points: Johnson Ferry Road/Ga. 400, Perimeter Center Parkway/Ga. 400, and Mount Vernon Highway/Ga. 400.

These points are fairly evenly distributed geographically in the Perimeter Center area, Linton said in his letter to GDOT.

But if Mount Vernon were removed or moved to Hammond, “not only is there less access but the interchanges also would be concentrated in one quadrant of the market,” Linton said in his letter to GDOT.

“Dunwoody is concerned that this would result in more of the managed lane traffic being directed to its surface streets and that the northern 2/3 of the market would have less than ideal access to the managed lanes,” Linton said.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.