It’s not the would-be builders, but the concept of building reversible toll lanes on I-75 and I-575 in Cherokee and Cobb counties that’s on the minds of area commuters.
About 40 people stopped by a hearing Tuesday night hosted by the Georgia Department of Transportation at the Woodstock Public Library, and most of them viewed the so-called Northwest Corridor’s proposed lanes in a positive light. They saw the project as a welcome way to ease congestion on the crowded interstates that carry commuters to and from the northwest Atlanta suburbs and the city.
However, most in attendance also said they wouldn’t use the lanes unless they were in a hurry to get somewhere because they wouldn’t be able to afford them. No toll rate has been set yet for the Northwest Corridor’s 30 miles of reversible lanes, but such projects can range up to about $1 per mile.
“Maybe if someday I needed to get home for a baseball game or for an emergency, I’d probably take them,” said Robby Walter, 30, of Woodstock.
Sunita Nadella, who lives off Roswell Road in Marietta, said she might use the lanes if she had to be somewhere on time or needed to avoid traffic backup from a large wreck. But not as an everyday commute option.
“The ideal would be to widen the highway, or I’d love to get MARTA, but I’m not ready to wait 10 years for that to happen,” Nadella said. “If this is what they can do now, I’ll take it.”
At an estimated cost of $950 million, the transportation project will be the largest in state history when completed in 2018. The cost of the road will be repaid by taxes as well as tolls, since toll revenue alone is rarely enough to repay the cost of building an optional toll lane.
Along I-75, the project would build two lanes from I-285 to I-575. Then north of the I-75/I-575 split, it would build one lane, on I-75 up to Hickory Grove Road, and on I-575 up to Sixes Road.
Drivers will have to pay a fee that rises and falls with congestion in order to drive in the toll lanes. The reversible lanes will be separated from the main road by barriers.
Craig Ridley of Woodstock said state transportation officials need to do a better job of explaining what the project is and how they are making decisions about it. He and Warren Lane of Woodstock said they oppose the project. They two men said they don’t believe drivers should have to pay taxes to build the road and then pay a toll again to use it.
“Instead of adding lanes, the only thing they can come up with is toll lanes?” Lane said. “I don’t think Americans want toll lanes.”
The purpose of two meetings this week is ostensibly to let the public offer opinions on three contracting teams that submitted proposals to design and build the Northwest Corridor. But most of the people who weighed in on Tuesday took little interest in densely worded, 11-page summaries of each company’s proposal that were handed out.
And no one offered comments to a court reporter who sat alone in the corner all night.
Instead, visitors paused to view the video animation of the project. Or, they directed site-specific questions to state transportation officials about how the project could impact their neighborhood or commute.
Linda Hoyal of Marietta said she liked the idea of being able to get through traffic quickly even if it cost her more. But she didn’t realize until questioned by a reporter that the focus of the meeting was on the bidders’ proposals.
“That, I have no concept of,” Hoyal said. “I thought it was still in the discussion stage, not the bidding phase.”
Each contracting group has submitted detailed proposals outlining how they would design and construct the reversible toll lanes. The leading bid will be selected later this month.
The bidders are:
- C.W. Matthews, Georgia’s largest and perhaps most influential road contractor.
- Northwest Express Roadbuilders, a joint venture between two of the largest transportation contractors in the Southeast, Archer-Western and Hubbard Construction.
- Georgia Transportation Partners, composed of two global builders, Bechtel and Kiewit.
Public reaction from this week’s meetings will not factor into how the companies’ bids are scored. However, a selection recommendation committee will summarize and present them for consideration July 23 to the GDOT board when it votes for a bidder.
People can still give feedback on the bidders via the website, www.nwcproject.com, until July 19. Before the meeting Tuesday, only one comment had been received via the website, according to a GDOT spokeswoman Karlene Barron.
She said the meeting’s turnout was pretty good.
“We certainly always want more,” Barron said, “but we’re thankful for the folks that have come out.”
The Georgia Department of Transportation will hold a second public hearing this week where people can review and comment on three private contractors’ proposals for the design, construction and partial financing of the I-75//I-575 Northwest Corridor project in Cobb and Cherokee counties.
When: 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, 2055 South Park Place, Atlanta