52 miles of managed lanes being built with plans to serve expanded transit bus system

By David Pendered

In a new approach to road construction in Georgia, the state is adding 52 miles of managed lanes in metro Atlanta with the intention of using them to serve a growing number of transit buses filled with passengers.

Managed lanes, Henry County

Georgia is building 52 miles of managed lanes that are to serve a growing fleet of transit buses, including this section being built along I-75 in Henry County. Credit: GDOT

The state’s three major transportation agencies are working together to create a system that is to help provide reliable trip times. The system is to serve commuters traveling from home in Atlanta’s suburbs to destinations mainly in downtown Atlanta, Midtown and the Perimeter business district.

All the managed lanes are to be open by sometime in 2018. Well before then, GRTA expects to have opened new routes to Perimeter and Atlanta’s airport; added service to existing routes; and installed security cameras on buses and smart phone technology that will enable riders to check the arrival time of their bus.

The collaborators on this system are the Georgia Department of Transportation; Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, which operates Xpress coach buses and a vanpool program; and the State Road and Tollway Authority, which oversees the state’s managed lanes.

“From a high level, what we’re doing managed lanes for is a system of benefits,” Darryl Van Meter, head of the Office of Innovative Delivery at the Georgia Department of Transportation, told GRTA’s board of directors at its June 10 meeting.

“We’re not just putting down pavement,” Van Meter said. “The Georgia Express Lanes system is synergistic with other facets of transportation, especially transit. … Imagine what bus service will be like with reliable trip times.”

GRTA long term recommendations

GRTA plans to increase Xpress coach bus service in the corridors where GDOT is building managed lanes. Credit: GRTA

Construction of managed lanes is underway in Henry County, along I-75, and in Cobb and Cherokee counties, in the Northwest Corridor along I-75. Bids were opened June 12 on a project in Gwinnett County that is to extend the existing managed lanes by five miles, from Old Peachtree Road to Hamilton Mill Road, located north of the split at I-985 and I-85.

“Hamilton Mill is the location of a park and ride lot, which help accentuate the utilization of this system,” Van Meter said of a lot that is to have 1,200 parking spaces.

Van Meter emphasized that these managed lanes are new pavement. They are not conversions of existing lanes. Commuters were outraged a few years ago when the state converted free lanes to toll lanes along I-85 in Gwinnett County.

Here’s a snapshot of the new pavement being installed:

  • Northwest Corridor – 29.7 miles; reversible lanes; to open in 2018;
  • Henry County – 12 miles; reversible lanes; to open in January 2017;
  • Gwinnett County – 10 miles; one northbound and one southbound lane; to open in 2018.

Chris Tomlinson, executive director of both GRTA and SRTA, was as enthusiastic as Van Meter in heralding the mobility system.

“This is a critical project for GRTA,” Tomlinson said. “We’re working with access points to the managed lanes, ensuring that park and ride lots are in the right places, or if we need additional park and rides. Again – how do we leverage this system between GRTA, SRTA, GDOT – because it’s not roads and bridges and tolls and transit. It’s about mobility and economic development.”

GRTA bus

GRTA’s Xpress coach bus service uses managed lanes in Gwinnett County, and will expand the use of managed lanes as they open by 2018. File/Credit: GRTA

This philosophy of mobility is a relatively new concept in Georgia.

The name on the building was Highway Department as recently as 1991, as former GDOT Commissioner Wayne Shackelford liked to observe. He took office in 1991 and pioneered the state’s embrace of transit.

Shackelford ensured that Ga. 400 was built so that MARTA could be added in the center of the corridor. MARTA went on to open stations in and along the corridor in 1996, Buckhead and Medical Center, and again in 2000, Sandy Springs and North Springs.

Gov. Nathan Deal appears to be trying to institutionalize the philosophy.

Deal named Tomlinson to head GRTA and SRTA in an effort to improve coordination between the agencies.

Deal named former Rep. Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla) as GDOT’s planning chief after Roberts navigated the transportation funding reform measure through the legislature. The reform provides a small sum that will be available to fund transit initiatives.

Roberts said at GRTA’s June 10 meeting that he predicts Georgia is likely to provide money in the future to support transit, in addition to the $75 million the Legislature provided this year.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

15 replies
  1. Carl Holt says:

    Too bad the state still refuses to fund transit for urban Atlanta. They fund express buses for the majority-voting Republican suburbs.Report

    Reply
  2. Stephen Fleming says:

    This is great news. Dedicated bus lanes can happen faster, more affordably, and more flexibly than light rail (streetcars) or heavy rail (MARTA trains). I hope this helps break the rail fetishists insistence than only rail qualifies as “transit.”Report

    Reply
  3. Don Rigger says:

    There is one big problem with this. Downtown Atlanta is choking on these buses and it gets worse and worse as more buses are added. In addition to building more dedicated bus lanes, PLEASE build a dedicated bus terminal which connects to MARTA.Report

    Reply
  4. writes_of_weigh says:

    One might hope……that every mile of taxpayor constructed/maintained roadway, within the state’s borders, are…….”managed” lanes?Report

    Reply
  5. mnst says:

    @atlman We should start voting for the Republicans who ignored the need for public transportation until about 5 minutes ago? No thank you.Report

    Reply
  6. preamble19 says:

    This is a short-term, expensive fix which will make only a minuscule difference in our traffic and pollution problems. We need a bigger vision.Report

    Reply
  7. Rock Gaines says:

    Re: … which operates Xpress coach buses…”:
    The words “coach” and “bus” mean the same thing. Try “commuter coach” if you don’t want to call Xpress service vehicles buses.Report

    Reply
  8. Rock Gaines says:

    preamble19 I agree. I believe the state wants to do this in the cheapest way possible. The state really doesn’t want to be involved in mass transit, but they’re being forced to. We REALLY need commuter rail and extension of MARTA heavy rail or new light rail service. This state is not all in. Also need inter-city service to Chicago thru Atlanta to Florida.Report

    Reply
  9. Rock Gaines says:

    @Don Rigger There are plans sitting in mothballs to build a Multi-Modal terminal downtown in “the gulch” between Five Points MARTA station and Phillips Arena that would serve Xpress coaches, Greyhound, commuter rail, and Amtrak. First I heard of these plans was the early 2000s. There would also be new office and retail space. The road blocks are money and lack of a political willingness to take action, as usual.Report

    Reply

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