BRT planning to accelerate along top-end I-285
By David Pendered
The prospect of bus rapid transit serving passengers along the top end of I-285 advanced Thursday, with MARTA’s board voting to collaborate with the other entities involved with improving mobility on the northern side of the Perimeter.
The cooperation will establish a group that can work with the Georgia Department of Transportation to bolster capacity for BRT on I-285 within the corridor of express lanes GDOT is planning for construction on the north side of the interstate. Timing for BRT planning along I-285 is becoming more urgent as GDOT moves toward final planning.
Partners in the collaboration include MARTA, which serves Fulton and DeKalb counties; Cobb and Gwinnett counties, which operate transit systems; the ATL, which is the state authority established to create a seamless regional transit system as well as operate the Xpress bus system; and the Atlanta Regional Commission, which informs transit and transportation spending in the region.
ATL planners provided the following description of the collaboration of local entities in a presentation at the Oct. 7 ATL board meeting:
- “Each operator to have direct engagement in visioning, scoping, planning, and conceptual engineering of proposed station locations;
- “Efforts will directly support engagement of developer community as GDOT proceeds through its planning and project development process for I-285 Top End Express Lanes project(s);
- “Regionalized I-285 Top End Express Lanes Transit design initiative is critical component to the design and construction process of the I-285 Top End Express Lanes project.”
GDOT announced in June a new financing plan for the planned express lanes, which are to be built to accommodate BRT. GDOT expects to provide two-lane tollways around Top End I-285, stretching from near I-20 West to I-20 East. Previously, sections were planned as one-lane tollways.
The expansion was enabled when GDOT decided to adopt a private revenue model to finance road construction. Terms of the new model extend the contract with the private entity by 15 years — to 50 years — and require the private entity to maintain the roadway during the entire 50-year contract.
With the decision over a financing model for the I-285 express lanes settled, GDOT is looking to metro Atlanta’s local transit entities to advise on how the express lanes can best serve transit vehicles, Meg Pirkle, GDOT’s chief engineer, said at the June 16 meeting of the state Transportation Board.
GDOT will share the locally produced reports with the private sector partners. The partners will have financial incentives to build the most robust express lane system possible and the issue of BRT in express lanes along I-285 will be a major point in discussions with the vendors, Pirkle said.
“We’ll have the proposers show us what they can do to provide innovation with transit,” Pirkle told the Transportation Board.
A 2019 BRT study presented scenarios with buses or light rail. Construction costs were dramatically lower for buses than for a light rail: Up to $480 million for roads for buses; $4.2 billion for a rail system. The system was to connect the Cumberland area in south Cobb County with the Northlake area in DeKalb County.