Feb 4, 2022 - Politics

Scoop: I-285/20 road project could derail DeKalb MARTA plans, Johnson says

Hank Johnson sits at a dais in a congressional chamber and speaks to an off-camera person
Congressman Hank Johnson, D-Georgia. Photo: Jack Gruber/USA TODAY

The state's planned overhaul of an interstate interchange in South DeKalb would make residents' longtime dreams of expanding MARTA in the area "difficult, if not impossible," Congressman Hank Johnson tells the Georgia Department of Transportation in a letter delivered this morning and obtained by Axios Atlanta.

Driving the news: GDOT's proposed reboot of the I-285 and I-20 interchange — published cost estimates run as high as $650 million — calls for adding lanes and replacing nearby bridges.

  • "Most of the new pavement" will be dedicated to lanes that give drivers more time to enter or exit the highway, according to GDOT's video overview of the project.
  • GDOT planned to select a company to handle design and construction by the end of 2021, start work in 2023, and complete the project in 2026.

In mid-January, the DeKalb Commission voiced its support to continue pursuing heavy rail along the I-20 corridor.

What they're saying: The project would add more cars and pollution, creating a potential environmental justice issue, says Johnson, who questions the state's analysis and asks for a breakdown of the project's effects on the climate and nearby communities, most of which are predominantly Black.

  • "A project that worsens pollution, fails to remove congestion, and makes it more difficult to build proposed transit expansion projects in the corridor seems like a particularly ineffective use of federal transportation funds," he writes.
  • “For over half a century, residents of South DeKalb have paid into the MARTA system, with the expectation that Heavy Rail would someday reach their neighborhoods," Mereda Davis Johnson, DeKalb's District 5 commissioner, said in a statement. "This promise is long overdue, and we must do everything we can to ensure that nothing stands in the way of possible expansion."

GDOT did not immediately return Axios Atlanta's request for comment.

The intrigue: Earlier this week, federal officials ordered Oregon's department of transportation plans to revisit its analysis of the upcoming I-5 Rose Quarter freeway project in Portland.

Johnson's letter follows a memo from Georgia's Democratic congressional delegation delivered last week to Emily Dunn, the State Board of Transportation chair, urging GDOT to reconsider its long-held reading of the Georgia Constitution that says gas tax funding can only pay for roads and bridges, not public transit.

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