I-285 express lane project near Atlanta expanding
June 22, 2021
Georgia’s I-285 express lane project just got bigger after the Georgia Department of Transportation announced new plans.
During a State Transportation Board committee meeting on June 16, GDOT gave its overseers an update on the I-285 express lane project in the Atlanta area. The State Transportation Board exercises general control and supervision of the department. GDOT Chief Engineer Meg Pirkle explained plans to double the express lanes on the lower end of the project.
Currently, the I-285 express lane project includes two barrier-separated express lanes in each direction in the top end. A single express lane in each direction is included in the west and east ends of the project, separated by a nonphysical barrier.
However, a new I-285 express lane proposal transforms the single express lanes on the west and east ends into two barrier-separated express lanes like the lanes already planned for the top end. Current plans have the express lanes end just before reaching Interstate 20. GDOT’s new plan expands those lanes all the way to I-20, adding 21% more lane miles. Pirkle said the changes will maximize value, increase capacity and improve user benefits.
GDOT’s revised I-285 express lane project also puts more financial responsibilities on the private sector.
The original plan has the contractor paying for the lanes and the state making payments over 35 years for the top end only. Consequently, the developer only operates and maintains the top end. However, the new public-private partnership model puts the entire financial investment on the private sector with a revenue risk contract, allowing it to operate and maintain all four segments. Since the contractor is assuming the risks, the contract extends from 35 years to 50 years.
By shifting more of the financial burden on the private sector, Pirkle said the I-285 express lanes will become closure to being self-funded with the potential for a large reduction in public funds. Many critics of the project have pointed out that tax dollars are paying for the express lanes which in return is charging them more money. Pirkle said the new public-private partnership model eases that concern.
Since the contractor will be holding the bulk of financial risks, the new plan also changes the tolling rate structure. In the current plan, the State Road and Tollway Authority would control congestion-based variable toll rates for I-285 express lanes. GDOT’s new plan allows the developer to set market-based variable toll rates within specified contract parameters.
During her presentation to the board, Pirkle suggested that Georgians have warmed up to tolls.
“Tolling has gained increased acceptance in Georgia,” Pirkle said. “We’ve seen the benefits express lanes can bring, and drivers in Georgia have experienced them and embraced them in corridors where they are an option.”
The I-285 express lanes are part of GDOT’s Major Mobility Investment Program. That project also includes truck-only lanes on Interstate 75. Those lanes will go northbound along I-75 from the I-75/I-475 interchange in Monroe County ending near the SR 20 interchange in Henry County. In 2019, the express lanes timeline was delayed while GDOT expedited the truck lanes. GDOT expects the truck lanes to open by the end of 2027. The complete I-285 express lanes are on schedule to open in 2032. LL