The Importance of Reducing Congestion by Spotlighting One Intersection

Creating a redundant transportation system is crucial to reducing congestion and improving mobility. One of the most important projects in the Atlanta metro area is the reconstruction of the I-285/SR 400 intersection, identified for years as one of the top transportation projects in Georgia. I-285 and SR 400 are the two freeways which provide access to the Perimeter business area, home to the largest concentration of jobs in the Southeast U.S.

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) has wanted to fix this interchange for years but has lacked the resources. The interchange and collector distributor ramps on SR 400 (totaling a combined $700+ million dollars) were on the 1% transportation special purpose local option sales tax list in 2012. While the interchange had near unanimous support, other projects on the list were controversial causing the tax to fail. However, GDOT still needed to fix the interchange and because of worsening congestion in metro Atlanta it decided to add collector-distributor lanes in addition to the SR 400 ramps. This brought the total cost to $950 billion.

To fund the project the state is going to sell $130 million in bonds, use $81.5 million in gas tax revenue and use a design-build-finance approach with builder contributions to supplement other sources.

But not everybody is happy. Atlanta Urbanist has created a list of bogus reasons to oppose the project.

First, the article claims that the interchange is something Atlanta does not need because new lanes lead to induced demand. But the interchange reconstruction project is not building new lanes; it is rebuilding a functionally obsolete interchange. Second, induced demand is only created when new non-priced lanes are added to growing areas. GDOT has an official policy, adopted in 2007, of adding only priced lanes to Atlanta freeways. The agency is planning on adding priced lanes to both corridors but the variable pricing will prevent induced demand.

Second, the article claims that Georgia has a pedestrian death rate 25% above the national average. This high rate is a problem but we have no idea what is causing the rate without researching the cause. Atlanta Urbanist wants to spend the $950 million on pedestrian improvements. The problem with this logic is that GDOT is using federal gas tax money collected from drivers and intended to be used on highways. Since this money comes from drivers it is only fair it is used on highways. Also, this federal funding is supposed to be used for interstate purposes. There are a large number of vehicles on I-285 and SR 400 from other states such as Florida and North Carolina. I doubt many folks in the metro Atlanta area walked here from another state.

Third, metro Atlanta has a growing senior population and we need ways to better serve them including transit. I agree that Atlanta’s transit service is insufficient. But with most rail lines costing in excess of $2 billion, this is not enough funding to pay for a full line. The interchange rebuild that allows the addition of variably priced lanes will also provide a free virtual guideway for buses and vanpools. In fact, thanks to using managed lanes as a guideway, Atlanta could build and operate a comprehensive bus system for less than a third of the cost of building a comprehensive light rail system. Further, new technology such as the development of automated vehicles may allow seniors to drive longer. While such vehicles are not yet available, they will be in the future.

The I-285-SR 400 interchange project is the biggest bottleneck in the metro Atlanta area. Regardless of what anyone claims, rebuilding the interchange will do more to improve mobility than any other transportation project in Georgia.

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