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Metro Atlanta to spend $173 billion on transportation by 2050

A few commuters avail themselves of the toll lanes along the Northwest Corridor as trip times begin increasing at the onset of the afternoon rush on northbound lanes. Credit: David Pendered Toll collections in Georgia have fallen by 70 percent, or more, compared to pre-pandemic levels such as this moment in February. File/Credit: David Pendered
A few commuters avail themselves of the toll lanes along the Northwest Corridor as trip times begin increasing at the onset of the afternoon rush on northbound lanes. Credit: David Pendered


By Maggie Lee

Looking thirty years into the future, metro Atlanta’s transportation planners see more toll lanes, more transit and $173 billion in spending.

But with some 2.9 million more people expected in the region, tomorrow’s commutes will yet be similar to today’s.

For example, the average metro Atlanta commute time is 31 minutes now.

The commute in 2050 will be 33 minutes, if all the spending is done as listed in the new version of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Regional Transportation Plan.

About twice as many people will take transit in 2050 as now. But still about half of trips will be taken by lone folks in their cars traveling, and they’ll be going at about the same speed as today, forecasters say.

Adding those 2.9 million people is like adding one metropolitan Denver to the 21-county metropolitan Atlanta area, said John Orr, leader of ARC’s Transportation Access and Mobility Group.

“So we’re still building, and trying to manage transportation — building with with a rapid growth environment.” Orr said. “Of course that provides opportunities and challenges as well.”

Most of what’s in the plan will be familiar to folks who follow transportation planning.

Tolled express lanes are planned for Interstate 20 outside the Perimeter, as well as along the whole north side of Interstate 285, meaning you’d be able to take an express lane trip from Douglasville, through Vinings, Sandy Springs, (taking a detour up 400 if you like), Doraville, and then into Lithonia.

That’s pricey to build. A single segment, the very top end Perimeter express lanes and lane improvements, will cost $12.6 billion.

Atlanta’s entire “more MARTA” plan (which includes light rail from Greenbriar mall to Emory) is also part of the RTP list, at $2.7 billion

Major projects are mapped online and all the plan documents are on ARC’s website.

Overall more than half the money — some $102 billion — is expected to be spent on maintenance and modernization of what’s already there: roads, intersections and transit.

About $38 billion will be spent on new things — managed lanes, highway and interchange expansion and transit expansion.

The rest is things like overhead and “demand management:” space for walking, biking and programs like commute alternatives to get people out of private vehicles.

The RTP is important because If something’s not in the plan, it doesn’t get federal funding.

And big projects don’t happen without federal money.

The ARC is a public body that does some of the technical work for the counties of metro Atlanta. For example, it’s ARC demographers who do the population projections and figure out where populations and jobs are likely to appear.

The RTP is the ARC’s effort to help cities and counties figure out what kind of transportation projects will best serve those residents.

What ends up in the plan are things the local governments want, that make sense, and that have some reasonable source of funding — state, local or federal dollars.

The ARC also talks to the public to see what might — or might not — be realistic.

For example, the public is not likely to accept new roads through parks, even if that construction would shave a few minutes off commute times or mean some fewer particles of pollution in the air.

The $173 billion in the plan is not ARC’s money.

About 44% of it is local money — mostly sales tax pennies collected by Atlanta, DeKalb, Fulton and Clayton. The rest is about half state and half federal funds.

Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.


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