Residents discuss the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Ga. 400 toll lanes project with a consultant at March 12 open house held in Sandy Springs. (Evelyn Andrews)

Residents and elected officials said it will be important to make a push for buffers like parks, trees and sound walls between neighborhoods and the Georgia Department of Transportation’s proposed toll lanes along Ga. 400 at the project’s the final open house. Some residents continued to express concern about the proposal to build flyover lanes atop the Northridge Road overpass.

“I think it’s terrible for the people whose houses are being taken, but also for the people who are left,” a Spalding Woods resident said. “I think it’s important we’re here to raise awareness and ask questions because I don’t think the DOT cares about who is left.”

The final open house meeting for this round of public input was held at Sandy Springs City Hall March 12 and was heavily attended. Several Sandy Springs City Council members and state senators and representatives attended and said they plan to help residents push for the improvements.

Several GDOT consultants responded to calls for new green space, parks and sound barriers to decrease the toll lane impact by saying that input is valuable and will be taken into consideration.

GDOT is working on two projects that would add four new toll lanes, called “express lanes” or “managed 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 toll lanes are part of a system being built metro-wide, including recently opened lanes on I-75 and I-575.

An illustrated map by the Georgia Department of Transportation shows the concept Ga. 400 toll lane alignment and Pitts Road bridge replacement. (Special)

The Ga. 400 project would add two new barrier-separated express lanes in both directions alongside regular travel lanes in a project estimated to cost $1.2 billion and begin construction in 2021. The I-285 Top End Express Lanes project, estimated to cost close to $5 billion, would add similar lanes and is expected to begin in 2023. Ga. 400 south of the North Springs MARTA Station was recently shifted to the I-285 project and impacts won’t be known until late this year.

Parts of the toll lanes are proposed to be elevated to use existing right of way, although other parts would be at-grade and would require building demolitions in Sandy Springs, including around 30 single-family homes.

GDOT has said the concept design is still preliminary and could change after an environmental review process. To see the designs and other meeting documents, including an illustrated video, visit GDOT’s website. 

A screenshot from an illustrated video released by the Georgia Department of Transportation shows the proposed flyover lanes atop Northridge Road as part of the Ga. 400 toll lanes project.

Many residents of Northridge Road, where GDOT has planned flyover lanes atop the overpass, continued to express the desire to revisit that plan, following a March 10 community meeting where they said the lanes could change the character of the area and bring more noise and pollution.

GDOT has said the flyover lanes are needed due to space constraints and complications like a Fulton County water line that would need to be relocated.

But some residents still hope there is another way.

“There is always another solution and we’re looking for that other solution,” a resident said.

An illustrated map by the Georgia Department of Transportation shows the concept Ga. 400 toll lane alignment and potential property impacts on Northgreen Drive and Talbot Colony. (Special)

Paul Young, a resident on Northgreen Drive, where 19 homes are targeted for demolition, said his house is not planned to be taken, but he is concerned about how his neighborhood will look after most of the houses on the street are gone.

“Our main concern is what’s left behind,” Young said.

The neighborhood wants to push for some kind green space and beautification, he said.

A resident near Roswell and Dalrymple roads said she understands the concerns from people who would be directly impacted, but she is excited for toll lanes and projected decreased congestion.

“I’m very excited,” Leslie Burke said. “The Perimeter Center is area is just going to continue to grow,” and the project is needed to help accommodate that increased traffic, she said.

Several people whose houses are not targeted for demolition, like Chuck Sliker, said they wish GDOT would buy their house anyway so they won’t have to deal with potential increased noise, loss of property value and bad aesthetics.

Sliker, who lives in Stratford Manor near Northridge Road, said he understands the need for the project,  but hopes GDOT is able to fund improvements that will help neighborhoods deal with the fallout.

“We’re not saying that this is not an important project, but if it is so important, let’s throw the money at it to make sure our residents can live comfortably,” Sliker said.

Another Northgreen Drive resident said he also plans to push for green space, a sound wall and protections for his neighborhood during construction.

“I wish we were being taken because at least they’ll give you some money,” Miguel Cornejo said.

An illustrated map by the Georgia Department of Transportation shows the concept Ga. 400 toll lane alignment and southern Roberts Drive bridge replacement. (Special)

Officials said they plan to help residents and neighborhood push for those kinds of improvements to be made.

“I know its been on the books for a long time, but we need to mitigate it as much as we can,” said Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs). “We need to fight this. This is very upsetting.”

“I think it’s absolutely essentially that if there is any increased noise, we have adequate buffers,” said Rep. Josh McLaurin (D-Sandy Springs).

Sandy Springs Councilmember Jody Reichel, who represents the neighborhoods where most displacements are expected, said she will help push for a park on Northgreen to “make it look beautiful afterwards.”

Councilmember Andy Bauman, said the call for noise mitigation and sound barriers was “clearly a common thread” among discussions at the meeting. Although City Council has no formal vote or approval of the project, their input is used and he plans to continue to push for those mitigations.

“City Council has a say, but we don’t have a vote,” he said. “We’re in the ‘make the most of it phase.’”