Now that a study has determined using new buses is the most feasible option for transit along the top end of I-285, another study is underway to determine where to build stations, determine ridership estimates and also the best way to fund a new “rubber wheel” system.

The second phase of the “I-285 Top End Transit Project” got $15,000 in financial backing from the city of Brookhaven in May. The total cost of the study is $135,000.

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst.

Other cities that funded the first phase and are expected to back the second phase are Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Chamblee, Doraville, Smyrna and Tucker. Additional funding is slated to come from the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts and the Cumberland Community Improvement Districts.

Cities are paying a prorated amount based on population.

“The second phase of the study will provide more granular-level detail than the initial study to include things like specific station locations, ridership estimates, fare structures and other details,” said Brookhaven City Manager Christian Sigman in a written statement.

In 2017, Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst brought together mayors from the top end cities to determine a way to incorporate transit into the Georgia Department of Transportation’s planned toll lanes project while also providing an east-west transit option.

Those discussions led to the first phase of the I-285 Top End Transit Project study where consultants last year determined a “high-end” bus system running within the toll lanes was the best option for transit.

Known commonly as bus rapid transit, or BRT, the system is being redefined by some local mayors due to what they say is a stigma attached to buses. Ernst has called the idea “tram transit” and Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal prefers calling it a “rubber wheel” system.

Tim Matthews, GDOT project manager, said the state would be building toll lane access points but those access points could not be used by any BRT transit system. GDOT would also not construct the BRT stop stations and access points to those stations.

That means the municipalities are responsible for finding money to build those new stations, estimated to cost between $300 million to $480 million, depending on how far the project goes along I-285, according to the first phase of the I-285 top end study.

GDOT plans to build toll lanes from west of Paces Ferry Road in Cobb County to Henderson Road in DeKalb County. A section along Ga. 400 from south of the Glenridge Connector to the North Springs MARTA Station is also part of this project.

Other costs BRT include buying the new buses, estimated to cost $10 million, and another $5 million to $8 million a year in maintenance costs.
The second phase of the I-285 top end study would drill down to look closer at ways to raise the funds needed to build out the “tram transit.” Options being discussed include city-based sales tax and various special district taxing possibilities.

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