$1B NW corridor project moves quietly forward
by Jon Gillooly
June 11, 2012 01:08 AM | 5629 views | 24 24 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Jun 08 12 - 11:00 PM

When the Interstate 75-Interstate 575 Northwest Corridor opens to traffic in 2018, motorists used to the massive gridlock where I-285 and I-75 merge will likely breathe a collective sigh of relief if they use the flyover toll lanes which will carry them over the jam and onto the new managed lanes. <br> Photo by Jon-Michael Sullivan
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While debate over the July 31 Transportation Investment Act grows ever louder, a $1 billion project to add reversible toll lanes to Interstates 75 and 575 in Cobb is quietly moving ahead.

It’s called the Northwest Corridor project and it will be the most expensive road project in the state’s history, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation. Its price tag equals one-eighth of the entire TIA project list, though the Northwest Corridor project is entirely separate from the proposed TIA sales tax that voters will decide on July 31.

Construction could begin in late 2013 with the reversible lanes open to traffic by 2018.

“What sold me on it is the importance of that corridor and the importance of relieving congestion,” Gov. Nathan Deal said. “It’s not a political thing. It’s just one of the facts of life when dealing with the realities of a problem you’re presented with, and trying to figure out the best solution to it.”

The project entails two new lanes along the west side of I-75 between its interchanges with I-285 and Hickory Grove Road. The lanes will be separate from the existing interstate. Both lanes will carry traffic southbound during morning rush hours and northbound in the evening rush. On I-575, one new reversible lane will be added in the center median from the I-75 interchange and Sixes Road.

Toll amounts have not been set, and will vary depending on traffic volume. The toll lanes, which are intended as an option for reliable trip times for drivers when the regular lanes are congested, will only be open during peak travel times.

Deal made clear the Cobb project is different than the toll lanes introduced in Gwinnett County.

“These are new lanes,” Deal said. “The conversion of the HOV lane to a HOT lane on I-85 in Gwinnett County took an existing lane and simply converted it into a toll lane. … I do not approve of taking an existing lane and converting it to a toll lane. I think toll lanes should only be new construction and new lanes.”

Planners say drivers will be able to get on or off the toll lanes at six points along I-75, and at three points along I-575.

On I-75, the access points will be at Interstate 285; Terrell Mill Road; Roswell Road; I-575; Big Shanty Road; and Hickory Grove Road.

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb) said the reversible toll lanes “will bring a tremendous amount of relief.”

“You double your capacity of what conventional construction would bring, because you have pretty much two lanes going in each direction at peak times,” Tippins said.

The state had planned to allow private companies to build the project and give them control of the tolls and lane operations. Deal cancelled that plan after he took office in 2011, an action that Tippins praises.

“I have a great deal of respect for the governor and his intestinal fortitude to have cancelled the other format … and take back the sovereignty of the road to the state of Georgia instead of being under the thumb of what would have been an entity that’s based in Spain. We’d have been under their thumb for up to 60 years. That did not bode well for the state of Georgia,” Tippins said.

The state senator said the project is not controversial because it is “so obviously beneficial.”

“You don’t generate a great deal of opposition and resistance when you have clarity of what a project is going to do and you spell out what it’s going to do, and when it’s going to do it,” Tippins said. “Any rational mind would realize that adding two lanes of interstate capacity in each direction at peak times, it’s kind of like killing rattlesnakes, I’m not sure there’s a wrong way to do that.”

The Northwest Corridor project is expected to cost nearly $1 billion. Earlier this year, the Georgia General Assembly designated $300 million of state gasoline taxes carried over from previous years to the project. The state has been approved to apply for a $270 million low-interest federal loan, and GDOT has put in $200 million from its construction budget.

A yet-to-be-named private partner will front 10 to 20 percent of the project cost, to be repaid by the state.

Deal said credit must be given to the members of the General Assembly who were willing to put the money in the supplemental budget for 2012.

“This I-75 corridor north is … not only for the metropolitan area, not only for Cobb County, but for the greater good of our state, because it is a major corridor where goods that are manufactured are moving through it, goods that are bringing raw materials to our manufacturers are using that thoroughfare. I just simply have to congratulate the members of the General Assembly for being willing to do that, and I’m sure that there will be occasions in the future where they will be asked to make similar decisions,” Deal said.

Deal called it a major departure from doing business as usual.

“I hope that it is a signal of a new era of cooperation. Not only between the General Assembly and the Department of Transportation, but also with local communities as well, and to me, that is the most long term positive result that we can have, is to put aside local interests as being the only reason that you vote for or against something and look at the greater good of our state.”
Comments
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SG68
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June 12, 2012
@ JR

No one expects a perfect plan just one that proposes projects that make some degree of sense and will actually address our congestion issues.

I happen to agree with this NW Corridor project but the majority of the projects in the upcoming TIA are going to be a waste of taxpayer money. Especially as it relates to Cobb County.

Most of our share is going to be spent on a project for the City of Atlanta.

It sounds like you are one of those who wants to do SOMETHING just for the sake of doing something, even if it is wrong.

I was always taught "Something worth doing is worth doing well."
Last GA Democrat
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June 12, 2012
@SG68

"I was always taught "Something worth doing is worth doing well.""

Exactly. We all, well most of us, understand that something needs to be done about Metro Atlanta's miserable congestion and the increasingly negative effect that it is starting to have on our local economy.

But what is the point of doing something like the T-SPLOST if it is going to be the wrong thing that will only make matters worse in many regards?
JR in Mableton
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June 12, 2012
How about this for a solution? Let's just allow our infrastructure to continue to age and decay. We get mad at our officials for ignoring infrastructure Now we are mad at them for providing potenti solutions. Let's continue to strive for the "perfect" plan and take satisfaction in our lack of accomplishments as a region. While we are at it, let's ignore our looming water crisis for another generation. It's great to see people who know so much about infrastructure sounding off online. Why aren't you running for office or running the DOT?? With your apparent expertise, you have a simple solution for everything. Let's see you make it happen. Where is your solution and implementation plan?
mk-no WILL to FIX
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June 12, 2012
This is a scam, a sham , a money grab, a slush fund, for the politicians and their buddy engineers!!

EVERY SINGLE DAY,... 285, 75 and 85 become congested and gridlocked, due to TRACTOR TRAILERS,.. jackknifed, on fire, leaking hazardous materials, running over smaller family vehicles, killing people.. etc., etc.

THE ONLY WAY Atlanta can grow smartly , efficiently, and be attractive to companies looking to expand,.. is to GET TRUCKERS OFF OUR CLOSE IN INTERSTATES!!

I don't care what massive road supporters continue to rail about,.. an OUTER WESTERN TRUCK ROUTE from I-75 in Griffin,.. through east Douglas County back up to I-75 around Acworth-- IS THE ONLY REAL SOLUTION TO GRIDLOCK!!!!

Without taking trucks OFF our local commuters highways,... it DON'T MATTER how many toll roads, reversible lanes or northwest corridors you build,... as soon as there's an accident,... there will be continued GRIDLOCK!!
Last GA Democrat
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June 12, 2012
mk-

I agree with you that there is a pressing need for an Outer Perimeter highway to take trucks off of the close-in interstates.

But there are too many very affluent and very politically powerful people who live in and near the route you propose for it to ever become a reality.

Due to very intense political pressure and very negative feedback, the state had to abandon a proposed route that was out much farther to the west and north than you propose, what makes you think that the state would even dare consider running the road through neighborhoods full of wealthy and powerful constituents in the closer in route you propose?
cellis805
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June 11, 2012
Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. The people planning this project must have never actually driven in this traffic. A Cobb commuter that works in Gwinett clogs 75, 285, and 85. Build a partial outer perimeter that connects 75, 400, and 85. Magically I-75 traffic would disappear.
Last GA Democrat
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June 12, 2012
"Build a partial outer perimeter that connects 75, 400, and 85. Magically I-75 traffic would disappear."

The state tried building a full Outer Perimeter and then a partial one in the form of the Northern Arc between I-75 NW and I-85 NE through Bartow, Cherokee, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties but the project was abandoned to due a very severe political backlash from the public and fierce resistance from a potent coalition of those who lived in and near the path of the road and anti-road environmentalists & Intowners.

The project was abandoned in 2002 by Governor Roy Barnes and was cancelled for good by Governor Sonny Perdue in 2003 with the path of the proposed road quickly being filled in with residential development in Forsyth and Cherokee counties.

GDOT floated the idea of reviving the Northern Arc much farther north and was totally ignored by the Legislature and quickly backed down from the idea when the media and the anti-roaders and people who live near the new path that they were proposing got wind of it.

The Outer Perimeter/Northern Arc is dead and it ain't coming back, because there are too many very powerful people who would never permit its construction or even planning, meaning we have no choice but to find another way to deal with traffic on metro freeways.

David Hall
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June 13, 2012
Yes exactly - why isn't this even a plan anymore, it used to be - now just a pipe dream? The really good part about a connector road that runs from I-75/575 say around Kennesaw, across 400 around Alpharetta, then to I-85 at the junction of I-985, is that a lot of that route is still undeveloped, so land is still available. Also about that airport up that way - have the connector road and then a new commercial airport perhaps in the center of it all someplace, a couple thousand acres of what's wood lands now - we don't hear about that at all anymore, a new north of the city airport. They did that in the Northern Virginia area (Dulles) and look what's happened there, an entire new metropolis grew up around the airport. Then a lot of people wouldn't even go into Atlanta anymore.

Just to be clear
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June 11, 2012
Everybody wants to vote NO on T-SPLOST b/c of how much money it uses, how it doesnt address traffic, etc etc but everybody is ok with spending 1 billion on 2 reversible lanes that will take at least 5 years to be completed AND eventually be gridlocked too? Oh ok. I can't wait to see how "successful" these toll lanes will be just like the ones in Gwinnett Co.
Clear Difference
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June 11, 2012
The Gwinnett I-85 HOT lanes took away existing Interstate I-85 lanes.

The Northwest Corridor will add two new I-75 lanes.

The Gwinnett I-85 HOT lanes took away lanes lanes paid for by the general taxpayers.

The I-75 Corridor will be paid for by the users through tolls.

Those are clear differences.
Last GA Democrat
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June 11, 2012
@ Clear Difference

"The I-75 Corridor will be paid for by the users through tolls."

Not exactly. The I-75 Northwest Corridor will be partially paid by the users through tolls.

The toll set-up on HOT lanes is not necessarily conducive to paying or recoving anywhere near the full cost of constructing, operating, maintaining the lanes as the tolls on the lanes are used to drive heavy traffic out of the lanes during peak periods so that the lanes can stay moving at a minimum of 45 m.p.h.

Last GA Democrat
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June 11, 2012
The state is basically going to have to use an entire year's roadbuilding budget to get the lanes built.
Last GA Democrat
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June 10, 2012
Has it really gotten this bad in Georgia?

Have our transportation infrastructure needs been totally neglected for so long that the commuting public gets overjoyed when a small bone is thrown their way just to get them to shut up, a small bone in the form of a mere couple of reversible tolled carpool lanes that should have been built three decades ago when the current 10-16 lane road was built as part of what was a then-massive freeway reconstruction project?

Make no mistake about it, I am at least happy to be getting something instead of what has become the usual nothing as of late.

But we are at the point that the traffic congestion, and at times outright gridlock, has gotten so bad that we are in need of much more than just a couple of ridiculously way overdue carpool lanes.

We need to max completely out on transportation infrastructure investment by doubling our existing freeway capacity and double-decking and widening the freeway system in Metro Atlanta.

Initiatives like the misguided TIA, the misguided T-SPLOST, the long-overdue Northwest Corridor and the so-called "Plan B" that everyone keeps talking about are like trying to treat a severe shotgun wound or decapitation with a small band-aid.

The Northwest Corridor is a start, but this severely transportation-challenged metro area remains in critical need of so much infinitely more improvement to transportation infrastructure than just a couple of reversible carpool lanes.
David Hall
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June 11, 2012
Hey Last GA Democrat, better watch it, you are sounding a lot like a conservative! I read all your posts and mostly agree (that's why I think you are a conservative). I agree that the TIA is flawed, and sounds like a boondodgle in progress. I would much rather see Cobb Co. collect it's own taxes to do it's own projects, where they would then be accountable to the tax payers in Cobb Co. I'm not sure people thinking about voting 'Yea' for TIA/TSPLOST realize we will have a permanent 7% sales tax, unless new SPLOST plans of the future are voted down. At least with SPLOST we can see the results, like new school buildings, several highway intersections fixed, same safer crosswalks for pedestrians, and other useful things we can see ALL OVER the county.

For Cobb's TIA, the best they seem to be able to come up with is a new bus service. What I still have not heard explained is why a bus service from Acworth to Downtown will cost $689 million? Even if they were buying $1M each luxury buses, can't be more than 20 to 40 buses or so, and maybe some special bus only roads built, bus stops, and so on. Perhaps these buses can fly? I doubt the entire CCT cost even half of that! And so that's what we will be paying an extra 1% sales tax for the next ten years for, a bus service that may see usage of 4000 people per day. Did they even bother doing a study to see how many people would use it? Then there are several smaller, undefined projects possible, I guess we'll "have to approve it before we can see what's in it". Is Tim Lee Cobb County's Nancy Peolsi?

SG68
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June 11, 2012
@ David Hall

First of all the premium bus service/BRT is a myth. There is absolutely no intention of implementing that project as it is described in the TIA project list.

It the premium bus service project a bait and switch gimmick to try to get Cobb voters to vote in favor of the TIA.

The plan is to implement light rail by hook or crook.

It is a placeholder.

No matter what you may hear the so called Alternatives Analysis will identify light rail as the locally preferred alternative and that will be that.

It is as fixed as the Clay/Liston fights!!

Secondly I agree with you. Let's retain our autonomy and finance our own projects. If the TIA is passes we are going to end up being a "donor" county.

In other words we will put more taxes in that we receive in improvements and projects in our geographical boundaries.

Ever hear of "income redistribution?"

We (Cobb County taxpayers) are going to be building an extension of the MARTA system for the City of Atlanta while they use their TIA funding to build a local trolley line (the Beltline) that benefits only them.

Why would any straight thinking Cobb taxpayer do that?
Bob Hovey
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June 10, 2012
The Northwest Corridor is a first class project. It took years of debate and study to get it right, but it is right now.

I have attended open houses and watched GDOT struggle to get it right, and they hung in there and we have a worthwhile result. It will reduce traffic congestion.

By reversing the direction morning and evening, we gain the equivalent of four new lanes along I-75, for the price of two lanes.

By putting in all new exchanges, we unload the existing exchanges. All of the exchanges will flow more freely.

Plan B for TSPLOST will be much better too. We just need to give them the two years they need to finish all the studies, answer the governance questions, listen to the public, and sort out the trains and busses.

If the region doesn't want to do a plan B, Cobb can do it. It will cost us about the same either way.

The Northwest Corridor is an example of what good can come of extensive public debate when DOT's are willing to listen. Well done.
Last GA Democrat
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June 10, 2012
If T-SPLOST gets voted down by the taxpayers, as it should, overwhelmingly, there will NOT, nor should there be a "plan B".

The Northwest Corridor is better than what we would be likely to get otherwise, which is absolutely nothing, but it is still nowhere near what is needed to make traffic flow better on I-75 and around the Atlanta Region.

What is REALLY needed and what would do a much better job of alleviating the very severe traffic congestion that we currently experience is to completely double-deck all of the mainline Interstates, US 41/Cobb Parkway, Hwy 6/Thornton Road and Georgia 400 while dramatically widening spur Interstate routes like I-575 and I-985 and the connector Interstate 675 on the Southside.

At this point we infinitely much more than just a couple of carpool lanes with adjustable tolls.

Seeing as though it has become almost a political impossibility to build any brand new freeways, we need to at least double the capacity of our existing freeway system to handle the very heavy truck traffic that is only expected to continue to dramatically increase.

The NWC, as bad as it is so desperately needed, is a sign of nearly total submission to the tree-hugging greenies and anti-roaders who are quite content to let this region drown in traffic congestion and die a slow economic death as long as if fulfills their rigid anti-road, pro-transit-at-all-costs agenda.
How Much
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June 11, 2012
@Last GA Democrat How much would it cost to Double Deck the highways you mentioned? Seriously, do you have any cost estimates at all or are you just blowing smoke?
Last GA Democrat
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June 11, 2012
@How Much

"@Last GA Democrat How much would it cost to Double Deck the highways you mentioned? Seriously, do you have any cost estimates at all or are you just blowing smoke?"

The cost estimates to double-deck the freeway system would be somewhere upwards of $20-$30 billion dollars and would have to be completely paid for with tolls on the upper deck.

We can pay for the needed transportation infrastructure with user fees in which only the users of a given infrastructure pay the tolls and fares needed to build, operate and maintain it or we can pay for needed transportation infrastructure by raising EVERYONE'S taxes, but either way, when you live in a major metro area of six million people and the few major roads we have are parking lots at rush hour, you are going to pay and pay dearly as transportation is at a premium in a major metro area.

SG68
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June 10, 2012
When something makes sense the taxpayers usually have no problem with it.

We nee more projects like this in the TIA project list.

As it stands now the TIA project list has a feww common sense project like this but a majority of the $7Billion is proposed to be spent on nonsense or projects that should be funded by the local entities in which they are located.

If we redo the project list there will be a few special interest groups that will lose their precious slush fund but we will have the opportunity to inject transportation projects that benefit everyone in the region.
Ability
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June 10, 2012
Good move DOT. Houston has had these for years.
Last GA Democrat
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June 10, 2012
Houston has also had the political will and intestinal fortitude to widen, expand and supplement their freeway system as needed.

One section of the I-10 West/Katy Freeway was just recently widened to as many as 26 lanes, including 4-6 tolled carpool/managed lanes, with room on the pavement to expand the traffic pattern up to as many as 30 travel lanes, if needed.

There's no way that we would ever see a serious proposal to double the traffic capacity of our freeway system in the Atlanta Region with the anti-road political environment that currently exists here in Georgia.

The amount of traffic on the freeway system in North Georgia has more than doubled over the last two decades as the population of the Atlanta Region grew by around 100 percent! Doubling from 2.9 million in 1990 to over 5.8 million today and yet, all that we can hope to get is two reversible tolled carpool lanes that should been built between 25-30 years ago when I-75 was originally widened to what it is today as part of the increasingly distant and increasingly irrelevant "Freeing-the-Freeways" project?
Piney Woods Pete II
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June 10, 2012
I can't believe we're going to accept this. Do you really want toll roads? The DOT plans to put them all over the metro area.

Reversible toll lanes financed by private companies. That's the best the state can come up with?
Last GA Democrat
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June 10, 2012
"I can't believe we're going to accept this. Do you really want toll roads?"

Yes, we not only really want, but also really NEED new roads and if we've got to pay tolls to get the roads that we are so increasingly desperately in need of then so be it.

In fact, this toll road project is nowhere near enough of what we need as a couple of reversible three-person carpool lanes with tolls that go up at rush hour when traffic in the lanes is the heaviest will likely not even make a noticeable dent in the severe traffic congestion and rush hour/peak period gridlock that plagues the I-75 NW Corridor.

The lanes are basically only to provide 1-2 occupant vehicles with the option of riding in the only couple of lanes on the roadway that are likely to be moving at near or close to freeway speeds during peak travel periods (rush hour, holiday rush, special event/weekend rush, etc)...That is if your able and willing to pay a very pretty penny that by the time the NW Corridor lanes open in 2018 could be as high as between $15-20 one-way to ride the length of the lanes.

"The DOT plans to put them all over the metro area."

Well, at least the state DID plan to put them all over the metro area before the understandably very angry public backlash against the I-85 HOT Lanes.

Right now, the only plans for HOT/HOV-3 lanes that appear to be even remotely in motion are the I-75/I-575 Northwest Corridor HOT Lanes and a project to place four HOT Lanes on I-75 South below the I-675 merge in Henry County.

The I-75/575 HOT Lanes are the only lanes that have any type of funding on hand at the moment.

"Reversible toll lanes financed by private companies. That's the best the state can come up with?"

At this moment, that is indeed the best that the state appears to be able to come up with as, for the most part, the state doesn't even be able to seem to come up with the money to fund even that minimal traffic relief proposal.

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