Here’s What a Billion-Dollar Interchange Expansion Looks Like

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In case you were wondering what a $1.1 billion highway interchange looks like, feast your eyes on this rendering from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

In an effort to “ease congestion” on this confluence of highways north of the city, Georgia will spend three-and-a-half years widening about four miles of I-285 and about one mile of SR 400, reconfiguring the place where they merge, rebuilding flyover ramps, and widening access roads into this gargantuan tangle of roadways. The interchange carries about 461,000 vehicles a day.

Governor Nathan Deal called it a “crucial economic engine.” Curbed Atlanta called the project an “orchestrated traffic jam” that is likely to be congested again by the time it is finished.

The cost for this interchange, through the sprawling Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs, is so large, Georgia officials couldn’t even come close to assembling the money through the usual public funding channels. Instead the state proceeded with private financing to fill the $610 million gap. But private financing is not cheap — the additional cost helps explain why the price tag has ticked up from initial estimates of $650 million to $1.056 billion over the last few years.

Under the revised financing plan, the state will still be paying for this project in 2027, at which point it will make a final balloon payment of $62 million, a figure that is equal to about 20 percent of Georgia DOT’s current annual capital budget, points out the Southern Environmental Law Center.

So this road expansion will constrain Georgia’s ability to invest in transit and other alternatives to driving long after it gets jammed with cars again (since more roadway space will generate more traffic).

According to GDOT, environmental studies found “no significant impact” for this project, which goes to show how meaningless those studies can be.

  • RepubAnon

    “It’s a bypass! You’ve got to build bypasses…” (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)

  • earthworx

    I drive through this confluence Mon. – Fri. The present construction is so bad that there is usually an accident here every single day. It needs to be reworked.

  • If you plot years worth of deadly crashes (http://www.saferoadmaps.org/) you’ll see that 400/285 is actually less deadly that the other Atlanta highway interchanges. And this heat map of crashes tells the story as well:

    http://tylerlyle.tumblr.com/post/290004147

    The idea that this expensive project is being done for safety reasons doesn’t fit in with the data.

    This is a billion dollar subsidy for wealthy car commuters in the northern suburbs. One that will likely be undone due to the induced demand. Given the growth projections in population for the northern part of the region, and given the new development in offices nearby, I suspect demand is going to get induced in a short period of time post-construction.

  • buckguy

    Atlanta is a place that loves suckers looking for bigger suckers. It’s also a place where people believe more concrete will work wonders, Beltline aside. Atlanta is hopeless and unsustainable and all the boosterism in the world won’t change that. And yes, I’ve lived there.

  • Yuan Gong

    Savannah Highnote

  • Alexander Vucelic

    They could be building 1,000 – 5,000 miles of protected bike lanes instead of expanding this interchange. Atlanta and its suburbs could have a Dutch/Danish level of cycling infrastructure nearly overnight.

  • douglasawillinger

    A pity they don’t redesign it

    to also better connect the area locally with a set of cut and cover tunnel roadways beneath a Hollywood Florida type traffic circle and park- ala the year 200 ‘Alexandria Orb’ proposal- see “A Trip Within the Beltway” blog

  • Michael

    As someone who has used this interchange fairly frequently, the main issues with this interchange are the left hand merges onto SR400. The rest of the interchange is fairly safe. The loop around ramp between SR400 South and I-285 East leaves much to be desired though. The funny thing is, U.S. 78 / I-285 also has a very similar setup but the merges are on I-285 (which is an Interstate) yet no one has ever proposed any upgrades to this. The interchange between GA 316 and I-85 also featured a left hand merge and actually had a fatal accident the first day it opened several decades ago. It was corrected.

    Personally I’m FOR this upgrade, the left hand merges onto 400 (although 400 isn’t an interstate) are causing a huge bottle neck during rush hour, literally a line of traffic backed up past Roswell Rd if you’re on I-285 East. The Sprawl to the North are going to make GA 400 improvements inevitable regardless of their costs / feasibility, its not really an option at this point.

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