Plans call for nine bus-rapid transit stations along the Top End of Interstate 285.

The elected heads of Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett and DeKalb counties signed an agreement Wednesday aimed at piggybacking mass transit on toll lanes to be added to the Top End of Interstate 285.

The four counties will work with MARTA, the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority (ATL), the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) on a $16.2 million study to incorporate bus-rapid transit (BRT) service on I-285 from its interchange with I-20 west of Atlanta all the way around to the I-285/I-20 interchange east of the city.

Plans call for up to nine BRT stations to line the route, some of which could be co-located with an existing MARTA station.

“This is an idea, a concept, for what transit can look like,” Chris Tomlinson, executive director of the ATL, said shortly before he, the county leaders and representatives of MARTA, the State Transportation Board and the ARC signed an agreement known as a memorandum of understanding.

The agreement calls for a consortium made up of the four counties, seven cities along I-285 and four self-taxing community improvement districts to develop plans for a multi-jurisdictional, multi-operator transit system along the Top End. The consortium will work with the state and regional transportation agencies to put together preliminary cost estimates.

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said the state DOT’s original plan for improving traffic flow along the heavily congested Top End didn’t include transit. It was limited to adding two barrier-separated toll lanes in each direction along the interstate.

It was the mayors of the cities who lobbied the state to include transit, a transportation option that is decades overdue, Ernst said.

“The best time to do transit was 50 years ago,” he said. “Now, the best time to do transit is today.”

Cobb County Commission Chairman Lisa Cupid said adding a transit option along I-285 will further connect the Cumberland business district with MARTA, making it easier for Cobb residents to get to jobs, schools and medical appointments.

“We’re not just speaking about transit,” she said. “This is economic development.”

While the Top End does not extend into Gwinnett County, improving traffic flow through the corridor is critical to Georgia’s second largest county, Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Nicole Hendrickson said.

“Congestion on the Perimeter directly affects congestion on I-85,” she said. “It has a significant impact on our residents and businesses.”

Tomlinson said BRT stations are being proposed at or near the I-285 interchanges with Donald E. Hollowell Parkway, Cumberland Parkway, Cumberland Boulevard, Roswell Road, Perimeter Center Parkway, Shallowford Road, LaVista Road, Lawrenceville Highway and Memorial Drive.

BRT stations could be co-located with the existing Hamilton E. Holmes, Doraville and Indian Creek MARTA stations.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Dave Williams is the Bureau Chief of Capitol Beat News Service.