Friday, September 24, 2010

Official release: GDOT, SRTA Boards Approve GA400 Lease Extension

Toll Funds to Be Used for Improvements to GA400

State Route 400, also known as GA400, is now in position to receive a series of improvements that will reduce travel times on GA400, many adjoining surface roads, and at its interchange with Interstate 85. The projects have been developed between the State Road & Tollway Authority (SRTA) and Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) after considerable input from many metro Atlanta government officials, civic leaders and business executives.

The State Transportation Board approved extending the ground lease for GA400 to SRTA until September 20, 2020. The SRTA Board also approved the lease extension as well as a resolution to issue toll revenue bonds and to establish the toll rate and the toll expiration date. The new bond would be paid for with tolls set at the same rates that are in place today.

“Metro Atlanta and the GA400 corridor have experienced phenomenal growth since this road first opened 20 years ago,” said Governor Sonny Perdue. “While growth was expected, nobody could have foreseen the amount of growth that has taken place. Both the roadway and its interchanges are in desperate need of improvements to better manage traffic flow. A plan is in place and can now be implemented to make those much-needed improvements.”

New connector ramps that join GA400 and I-85 are specified in the new lease agreement. The connector ramps were part of the original plans for GA400 when the road was first built but were excluded because of budget. Cost to build the ramps at the time was approximately $21.5 million. Today, the cost is projected to be $40 million and an initial scheduling projection states the ramps can be completed in 2013. According to GDOT, if a new toll is not used to fund the project the earliest that this or any other GA400 improvement project could take place is 2020.

“I had the privilege of being involved with GA400 when it was first conceived as a way to open the north Georgia suburbs to Downtown Atlanta,” said Tom Moreland, former GDOT Commissioner and head of Moreland Altobelli Associates, Inc. “That was a very different time. We anticipated a lot of growth, but you have to remember that this was at least five years before we knew Atlanta was even getting the Olympics. There’s no way that any of us could have anticipated the growth that Metro Atlanta has experienced. A lot has changed since then, but tollways are still one of the best ways to effectively build, improve and maintain intercity expressways and GA400 is no different. Keeping the tollway makes perfect sense.”

SRTA and GDOT initially developed a list of 160 possible projects with input from the North Fulton Atlanta Mayors Association; Buckhead, North Fulton and Perimeter CIDs; Atlanta Regional Commission, Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and various city and county planning and transportation entities. Those projects were then reviewed based on their impact to GA400 corridor, mobility, strategic objectives and project schedule. The short-list of 11 projects ranked the highest based on these criteria.

“SRTA and GDOT have been jointly exploring many different options for GA400, which include both removing and keeping the tollway,” said SRTA Executive Director Gena Evans. “After a significant amount of input from community groups and civic and business leaders, SRTA is recommending that a new toll be implemented to fund much needed improvements along the GA400 corridor.”

The next step is to solicit public comments on the projects for a 30-day period. This comment period will look much like the GDOT Open Houses before a project is confirmed.

The 11 projects that are recommended for implementation are:

· New ramps that connect GA400 and I-85 so motorists no longer need to travel on local surface streets, saving 4 to 7 minutes of travel time;

· Improving the GA400 southbound to I-85 southbound merge so GA400 has a dedicated lane in I-85;

· Widening GA400 from McFarland Rd. to SR20 with a third general purpose lane;

· Extend the third northbound lane approximately ¾ miles to enhance the transition from the existing four lanes to two lanes near McFarland Rd that extend to SR20 in Forsyth County;

· Extend the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) and Highway Emergency Response Order (HERO) north from McFarland Rd to SR20 by providing video detection and ramp metering to more effectively manage congestion and reduce the impact of incidences along GA400;

· Install ITS from Barnwell Rd on SR140/Holcomb Bridge Rd to SR9/Alpharetta Street, utilizing existing Active Traffic Management System devices to optimize costs and coordinate with the existing City of Roswell traffic infrastructure;

· Construct a triple left turn lane for the Mansell Road corridor between the GA400 northbound exit ramp (Exit 8) and the North Point Parkway intersection with Mansell Rd to accommodate planned growth from the current 18,650 cars per day to the projected 59,700 cars per day in 2034;

· Continue funding the GRTA Xpress service from Forsyth County to the North Springs MARTA rail station near Perimeter Center and direct service to Downtown Atlanta from Cumming;

· Reconstruct the ramp from westbound Abernathy to northbound GA400 to allow motorists additional time and distance to merge onto GA400; and

· Increase capacity and make operational improvements to the three intersections that directly tie into the Northridge Road intersection at GA400, which are Northridge Road at Dunwoody Place, Roberts Drive and Somerset Court, and Roberts Drive and Dunwoody Place, and add a traffic roundabout at Somerset Court to the east; and

· Initiate Preliminary Engineering (PE) of managed lanes between I-285 and McFarland Road.

GDOT has final approval over plans and specifications for any such construction projects before they can be put out to bid.

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