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Alpharetta officials want changes to GDOT’s Ga. Highway 400 express lane plans

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Leaders of a handful of impacted cities have raised issues with the blueprints

A rendering of the interstate, with four public lanes in each direction and two express lanes in each direction.
What part of the plans for Alpharetta currently look like.
GDOT, via YouTube

Alpharetta officials aren’t exactly satisfied with Georgia Department of Transportation’s plans to build new express lanes along Ga. Highway 400, through their city and beyond.

On Monday night, the Alpharetta City Council discussed potential amendments to the massive plan, which is part of an $11 billion GDOT project called the Major Mobility Investment Program, a state initiative aimed at reducing traffic congestion.

Current plans call for 16 miles—more than six of which run through Alpharetta—of new toll lanes.

Two buffer-separated lanes would run in each direction between the North Springs MARTA Station and McGinnis Ferry Road, with one buffer-separated lane in each direction from McGinnis Ferry Road to McFarland Parkway, according to GDOT’s project page.

But in a letter Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin penned to GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry, the city’s chief executive listed changes to the state agency’s plans that, city leaders believe, would reduce the costs and negative impacts of the express lanes project.

(UPDATE: 10:37 a.m. A resolution authorizing Gilvin to issue the letter to GDOT Commissioner McMurry was approved last night by unanimous council vote, Alpharetta officials tell Curbed Atlanta.)

Among prospective changes, Alpharetta leaders are requesting a direct-access interchange at Encore Parkway, a busy thoroughfare people use to get to the AmerisBank Amphitheater, Topgolf, and North Point Mall.

“Completed in August 2017, the new bridge at Encore Parkway was designed with the expansion of Ga. 400 in mind and could, with relatively minor modification, be configured to be the primary access point to and from the Ga. 400 Express Lanes in Alpharetta,” the letter says.

Additionally, Gilvin requested a “full direct merge” just south of Windward Parkway, instead of just south of Haynes Bridge Road, which is the plan now.

The letter also suggests a bus rapid transit node at North Point Mall. Two possibilities were presented on that front:

Option 1: Dedicated Transit Flyover

“To provide for completely dedicated access to an offline transit node at or adjacent to North Point Mall, we propose that a dedicated transit flyover be constructed. This would replace the currently proposed inline transit stop at this location; resulting in enhanced rider safety and reduced conflicts with vehicles in the Express Lanes as BRT vehicles merge into Express Lane traffic. Further, it is more in keeping with long-standing MARTA strategies and our own community plans as defined in our North Point Livable Centers Initiative (LCI).”

Option 2: Direct Access Interchange At Encore Parkway

“As an alternative, we propose leveraging the aforementioned direct access interchange at Encore Parkway to provide access to and from an offline transit node at or adjacent to North Point Mall. In addition to the benefits outlined in Option 1 above, this would provide the ability to leverage existing investments and infrastructure improvements to connect transit riders with surrounding regional destinations and existing MARTA bus service. While this alternative has the potential to present significantly lower cost, it would come at the expense of having to share the access point with surface street vehicles.”

There’s also an ask for a dedicated transit flyover at Old Milton Parkway to replace the one planned just south of Windward Parkway.

“This location, close in proximity to key destinations like Avalon and the Gwinnett Tech Campus, provides much better regional connectivity, due to the ability to connect the resulting transit node to a regional east/west arterial,” per the letter.

Alpharetta officials’ call for tweaks to GDOT’s plans aren’t the first concerns municipal leaders have had with the express lanes project.

Municipal leaders in Roswell and Sandy Springs have also exchanged ideas with GDOT officials, hoping to protect their residents from undue side effects, such as increased traffic and highway noise, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

If GDOT aims to keep the project on track for construction in 2022—and completion in 2027—it needs to present plans to the Federal Highway Administration for environmental approval and then start the bidding process this fall.