In advance of meetings about its controversial plan to add toll lanes along I-285 and Ga. 400, the Georgia Department of Transportation has repeatedly refused to release any proposed right of way property-taking information in response to Reporter open records requests. GDOT says it will not provide even general estimates of the number of affected properties, which David Hudson, an attorney on the board of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, says would not be exempt from disclosure.

GDOT variously cites open records law exemptions for real estate transactions, claims the information does not yet exist, or says the information does exist but is not ready for public presentation. Meanwhile, GDOT has shown some projected property-taking details to Fulton County Schools and says a full estimate will be available at public meetings coming later this year.

The new “managed lanes” for Ga. 400 run on elevated ramps in this sample concept design from the Georgia Department of Transportation. Similar lanes would be added to I-285. (Special)

Two meetings at Fulton County schools will particularly address the district’s concerns about the possible property-taking and other impacts at local schools from the new toll lanes. The meetings are scheduled for Jan. 14, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Dunwoody Springs Elementary, 8100 Roberts Drive; and Jan. 16, 6:30-8 p.m., at Riverwood International Charter School, 5900 Raider Drive.

The Dunwoody Homeowners Association will have GDOT at its board meeting on Feb. 10 from 7:30-9 p.m. at the North DeKalb Cultural Arts Center, 5339 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road. The influential community group represents a city whose officials are increasingly expressing concerns about how the toll lanes might impact such neighborhoods as Georgetown.

GDOT’s “express lanes” or “managed lanes” project would add four new toll-only lanes along I-285 and Ga. 400 in the Perimeter Center area over the next decade, with the intent of improving overall traffic flow. The Ga. 400 lanes also would carry a new MARTA bus rapid transit route.

The early concepts for the toll lanes have already rattled some officials in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs for possible land-taking and the idea of putting the lanes on ramps towering 30 feet or higher over neighborhoods and plugging into new interchanges onto such local streets as Mount Vernon Highway.

So far, GDOT has not held general public meetings about the toll lanes plans, but says that such meetings are coming in the “first quarter” of 2019 for the Ga. 400 plan and later in the year for the I-285 plan.

GDOT has met off-and-on privately with “stakeholders,” such as the school system and the city of Sandy Springs, for over a year to get feedback on some details, and occasionally at local City Council meetings. GDOT also says it will meet with any local organization, such as a homeowners association, but it does not proactively notify residents who might be affected.

John Ruch

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