The state’s plan to build toll lanes on the top end of I-285 could impact a minimum of 300 properties all along the corridor, ranging from construction easements to full land takings, according to city of Brookhaven officials.

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst, center, City Councilmember Linley Jones, left, and attorney Charles Pursley, a condemnation and eminent domain attorney, listen to a question during an April 18 community meeting about the I-285 Top End toll lanes project. (Dyana Bagby)

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst and City Councilmember Linley Jones said they learned the number April 16 after meeting with a Georgia Department of Transportation official. Not all the properties are located in Brookhaven, they said at an April 18 community meeting at Brookhaven City Hall with roughly 50 people attending. They also said they did not know how many Brookhaven properties would be affected.

But the news was serious enough that Ernst and Jones invited an eminent domain attorney, Charles Pursley, to the meeting to outline rights homeowners have when GDOT may come knock on their door to say they need all or some of their property to construct the toll lanes.

There were no GDOT representatives at the meeting.

A GDOT map of where planned toll lanes are to be built along the top end of I-285 and including a portion of Ga. 400.

The total number of public and private properties estimated to be affected by the toll lanes project was among the pieces of information the Reporter sought from GDOT late last year in an open records request. GDOT repeatedly refused to release the information, citing various Open Records Act exemptions and a policy of keeping such information private, despite the opinion of an attorney on the board of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation that the general number of properties affected is among the information not legally exempt from disclosure.

The 300-plus properties affected on the top end of I-285 are located between Henderson Road in the Tucker area in the east and to Paces Ferry in Vinings, just to the west of Buckhead, Ernst said. The top end of I-285 cuts through Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, as well as Doraville.

Residents of Dunwoody’s Georgetown community have raised concerns and demanded answers from GDOT about how their properties may be affected by the I-285 toll lanes, largely to no real answers. GDOT officials have said plans are still in progress.

In January, members of a homeowners association of Sandy Springs’ Montrose Lane, just off Long Island Drive at I-285, revealed GDOT’s proposed land-taking for toll lanes at five of the cul-de-sac’s 12 homes. A map, marked “preliminary,” shows proposed right of way, construction and easement lines on six properties whose owners are identified by name. It appears to show the toll lanes being added to I-285 by widening the highway roughly 50 feet closer to Montrose Lane homes.

The I-285 Top End Express Lanes project, estimated to cost close to $5 billion, would add two new barrier-separated express lanes in both directions alongside regular travel lanes and is expected to begin in 2023. The toll lanes are part of an $11 billion statewide “major mobility investment program” to reduce traffic congestion. GDOT is now conducting an environmental study for the I-285 toll lanes that will determine where sound barriers and right of way will be needed. The study is expected to be finished in two years.

In Brookhaven, residents living north of Murphey Candler Park in the areas of Brawley Circle, Ashwoody Trail and Berkford Circle are those who would be most impacted, said Jones, who represents District 1, including the properties abutting I-285.

“While the state of Georgia has decided that the top end 285 project is in the best interest of the citizens of Georgia, there is no question that it is going to be very difficult proposition for many of the citizens right along the top end of District 1,” she said.

There is nothing the city can do to stop the project, Ernst and Jones said. The only way the city can impact the project is to advocate for such things as quality sound barriers and to ensure adequate storm drainage.

Steve Zoeller has lived on Brawley Circle since 1993. He said for the past 20 years there has been ongoing talk about the state doing something to I-285 to accommodate more traffic. But he said during those years there would be preliminary public meetings.

For the I-285 toll lanes project, though, he said it seems like GDOT bypassed preliminary public input and is going straight to informing people what will be happening.

“GDOT can now make all their plans and then come to you and tell you what is happening,” he said after the Brookhaven community meeting. “The public got totally bypassed and this has been thrust upon us.

“I voted for Brookhaven to be a city to get representation for big-picture issues like this,” he added. “Now we’re not involved and we’re being told this is what you get.”

Steve Zoeller of Brookhaven points on a map to where his neighborhood is abutting I-285. Homeowners in the area are expected to be seriously impacted by the planned I-285 Top End toll lanes. (Dyana Bagby)

GDOT is also undertaking building two barrier-separated toll lanes along Ga. 400 in both directions in a project estimated to cost $1.2 billion and begin construction in 2021.

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.

Ga. 400 and I-285 top end projects would include elevated lanes, between 30- and 60-feet tall. GDOT says building elevated toll lanes reduces taking of right-of-way land.

In Brookhaven, the elevated toll lanes are expected to be constructed near Ashford-Dunwoody Road and Chamblee-Dunwoody Road.

GDOT officials have pointed to the recent toll lanes opened on I-75 and I-575 as being similar to what is planned on Ga. 400 and the top end of I-285. They say these toll lanes have significantly reduced commute times for motorists.

In Sandy Springs, more than 40 properties, including single-family homes, an apartment building and offices, could be taken by the state as part of the Ga. 400 toll lanes project. The information was made public during a GDOT public hearing on the Ga. 400 toll lanes in February.

The first GDOT public meetings to unveil design plans for the I-285 top end toll lanes are expected in December or January, Ernst said, describing it as the “big reveal.”

Ernst said GDOT is not revealing much information to the cities impacted by the toll lanes. He added he hoped the April 18 meeting was the start of residents coming together to decide what they want to advocate for to try to mitigate the construction.

At least one resident was happy the toll lanes were being built because of the promise they would alleviate traffic.

“I’m terribly sorry some of you may be losing your home or have already lost your home, that is awful … but you have to understand Atlanta is incredibly transient and has grown significantly,” she said. “The engineers who are building all of this are doing it for our future.”

Ernst said he and the council would continue to monitor the toll lanes project and advocate for the city and its residents.

“We will do what we can do to effect change,” he said.

Update: This story has been updated with information about the Reporter’s open records requests regarding properties impacted by toll lanes and with information about Sandy Springs residents living on Montrose Lane being told parts of their properties are likely to be taken for the I-285 toll lanes.

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