As residents increasing complain about secrecy and property-taking in the state’s plans to add toll lanes to I-285 and Ga. 400, state Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs) says it’s no easier getting information from within the government. So she’s attempting to organize a meeting of top Sandy Springs officials, the Georgia Department of Transportation and possibly the general public to get “some straight answers.”

State Rep. Deborah Silcox.

“It will change our city and my home forever. I am very, very concerned,” Silcox said of the toll lanes plan.

“It would be great to get some straight answers,” said Silcox. “I think everybody wants to know the whole plan for the whole city… Which houses [are demolished], if they’ve decided?”

GDOT infuriated many residents in January with a community meeting at which it refused to take questions or provide detailed information about the toll lanes, and it has refused to fulfill Reporter open records request as well. At that time, GDOT had shown Fulton County Schools officials that the toll lanes could eat into several school properties. Since then, GDOT revealed it aims to demolish more than 40 homes and other buildings for just one section of Ga. 400 toll lanes. The city of Sandy Springs has been privately negotiating a toll lanes interchange that would take more homes.

Silcox attended the January meeting where GDOT refused to provide more information. She said that adding to the confusion is GDOT’s treatment of the toll lanes as separate projects from the “Transform 285/400” interchange reconstruction currently underway, and the toll lanes’ further subdivision into separate I-285 and Ga. 400 projects. Adding to the confusion is GDOT’s recent decision to shift a large section of the Ga. 400 planning into the I-285 project, which is on a later timeline.

“We haven’t been able to get a whole picture,” said Silcox. “They split it up” into separate projects and areas, “and they speak engineer-speak,” she said.

Silcox said she is attempting to arrange a meeting sometime in April of GDOT engineers on all of the projects, joined by all Sandy Springs-area state legislators, Fulton County Schools officials, the Sandy Springs mayor and City Council, and representatives of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, which is a coalition of neighborhood associations. Silcox said she didn’t yet know whether such a meeting would be open to the general public.

GDOT’s plans would add the toll lanes along Ga. 400 and I-285 over the next decade, starting on Ga. 400 in 2021. The intent is to improve overall traffic flow, and MARTA plans to run mass transit buses on the Ga. 400 lanes as well. Parts of the toll lanes are expected to be elevated, including a high flyover atop Northridge Road, to use existing right of way. The toll lanes are part of a system being built metro-wide, including recently opened lanes on I-75 and I-575.

John Ruch

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