Ga. 400 shoulder to take on traffic

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Starting next month, if all goes right, Ga. 400 drivers just north of I-285 will have one more lane.
And emergency vehicles will have one less.
The state Department of Transportation hopes by mid-May to launch the first phase of its plan to allow regular traffic onto the Ga. 400 shoulder lane outside the Perimeter. It’s a trial phase, from Holcomb Bridge Road to North Springs, southbound only, and only from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m., Monday through Friday.
Some emergency vehicle operators are concerned. The shoulders along Ga. 400 were specially reinforced years ago for buses to use, but ambulances, firetrucks and police cars also have had extra travel space there up to now.
After meeting with local governments, the DOT has made changes to the project, said DOT spokeswoman Jill Goldberg. It will add six new pull-off spaces, for a total of eight, where police can give tickets out of traffic or some accidents can be managed. Signs will tell motorists they must move over if they hear an emergency vehicle.
“GDOT is working diligently and in good faith to address those concerns,” said Sandy Springs Police Chief Terry Sult, citing the project additions. “That said, we still have concerns.”
The opening date depends on getting the lane ready, and “none of the steps that need to be taken in the roadway have been done,” Goldberg said. Sult said the opening could take place as early as May 7, or the week after, mid-May. The construction is not expected to impact traffic much since much of it will be off to the side.
Other phases of the project — including the northbound lane, and converting the side access lanes north of Holcomb Bridge to a travel lane — would come later, after the DOT has a chance to evaluate whether the first phase is working. The DOT is inclined to wait until after school traffic lets out and opens up again next fall to see how the first phase is working, Goldberg said.
“Ultimately that’s how we’re going to judge it — if we see an improvement in travel times” and congestion, Goldberg said. “We’ll need to see a result.”
The project was first announced by Gov. Nathan Deal, to give relief on Ga. 400 where the state’s coffers don’t have enough to fund a regular road expansion. 
A separate proposal, to add optional toll lanes along Ga. 400 from I-285 to Ga. 20, is much farther off and does not have the needed subsidy funds yet identified. But that one would build new lanes that don’t currently exist.
Under the current project, traffic will still be illegal in the shoulder lane outside of the morning rush hour, Goldberg said. Advisories will be painted on the lane telling drivers there to stay under 45 mph, she added, although morning congestion in the corridor might make the point moot.
DOT Commissioner Keith Golden stressed the project wouldn’t be a cure-all.
“It’ll have no significant impact on traffic,” Golden said. “It’s just a little bit better utilization of the asset.”
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