ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Alpharetta’s campaign to move a proposed express lane interchange on Ga. 400 from Webb Bridge Road to a site farther south is dead.
Mayor Jim Gilvin dropped the bombshell at the end of the Sept. 23 City Council meeting, announcing that a drive to get the Georgia DOT to change its plan to place the interchange just north of Webb Bridge Road never had a chance.
The City Council formally adopted the petition last month in the wake of fears that the express-lane-only interchange would clog residential roadways already at capacity near Webb Bridge. The council recommended Encore Parkway, located farther south, would be more suitable and would coincide with the city’s efforts to revitalize the area near North Point Mall.
Gilvin reported at the council meeting that he had met with GDOT officials that same day and was told the city’s option is not being considered.
“I wanted to let everyone know that, unfortunately, GDOT expressed no interest in pursuing our suggestion for using the bridge that was built at Encore Parkway to accommodate four lanes and continues to move forward with their proposal,” Gilvin said. “GDOT was quite emphatic that they have no interest in revisiting that.”
A foregone conclusion
The mayor added that the decision seemed to have been made long before the current city council had time to consider an option. He said he was told by a GDOT representative that back in 2017, a delegation consisting of one member of the Alpharetta City Council and a representative from the North Fulton Community Improvement District had visited GDOT headquarters and asked that Encore Parkway not be considered as a site for an interchange.
Gilvin said the 2017 meeting was inappropriate.
“There was no public input; there was no public vote by City Council,” he said.
Following the meeting, Gilvin said he was not given the names of the former council member and North Fulton CID representative who approached GDOT in 2017. He said he was told that the city representative is no longer on the City Council.
There are only three people who were on the 2017 City Council who no longer serve: Mayor David Belle Isle, Councilman Chris Owens and Councilman Mike Kennedy.
“I don’t recall hearing about a meeting on that subject,” Belle Isle said. “There wasn’t a lot known about the specific GDOT plans at the time.”
Kennedy responded in the same way.
“I never met with GDOT,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know of the meeting Gilvin was referring to.
Chris Owens, a civil engineer, served as liaison to the Alpharetta Public Works Department during his eight years on the City Council. He said that during that time, he had frequent contact with the Georgia DOT. Those conversations, he said, were relayed back to the City Council.
“I did not talk with [GDOT Commissioner] Russell McMurry and his staff about ruling out a particular interchange,” Owens said.
Besides, Owens said, conversations two years ago about the project would be out of context today. For one thing, he said, MARTA’s transit service along the express lanes hadn’t even been proposed at the time.
GDOT says public input guided decision
A spokeswoman for the Georgia DOT would not address the issue of any 2017 meeting with Alpharetta and the CID.
She did release a statement saying that after two years of work with Alpharetta including multiple public information open houses earlier this year, GDOT received a great deal of local input on the project.
“Unfortunately, the recent request to make Encore Parkway an express lanes interchange doesn’t fit in the timeline necessary for advancing the project,” she said. “GDOT will continue to work with the City of Alpharetta and will have public hearings next year as we move forward on the Ga. 400 Express Lanes project which will serve millions of Georgia motorists and Alpharetta residents among them.”
GDOT first unveiled plans for the interchange just north of Webb Bridge Road last December. Dubbed “Webb+,” the structure would be designed to allow access only to traffic using the express lanes.
At a meeting held earlier this summer with GDOT officials in charge of the project, Alpharetta City Councilman Jason Binder said the Webb+ access point would likely affect local traffic along several city streets, including Cumming and Academy streets, Westside Parkway and Webb Bridge Road — most with residential developments. He pointed out that GDOT’s claim that the interchange would have minimal effect on local traffic was faulty because the nearby roads are already at or over capacity.
Gilvin said Alpharetta never protested Webb+ before September, because the city never received accurate traffic projections from GDOT.
Officials in Sandy Springs and Roswell, farther to the south, never waited. They notified GDOT last year they opposed plans for interchanges in their cities.
In Roswell, GDOT had planned an express lane access at the proposed Big Creek Parkway Bridge. City officials rejected the idea.
The city and GDOT have since agreed on a proposal that would allow southbound access only to the express lanes at a point south of Holcomb Bridge Road.
The state’s $1.8 billion plan to add two express lanes in each direction covers 12 miles of Ga. 400 from I-285 north to McFarland Parkway in Forsyth County.