A controversial plan to build trucks-only lanes on I-75 south of Atlanta took a small but significant step forward Thursday.
The Atlanta Regional Commission’s Transportation and Air Quality Committee approved an amendment to the region’s long-term transportation plan that includes the truck lanes and other projects included in Gov. Nathan Deal’s 10-year, $10 billion “major mobility investment program,” unveiled in 2016.
Most of the projects in the governor’s program were already included in the ARC transportation plan. The truck lanes were an exception.
The $2 billion project is intended to reduce congestion on a 40-mile stretch of I-75 between Macon and McDonough. It would add two toll-free lanes for trucks only, separated by barriers from the other lanes.
As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported earlier this year, a state audit criticized the Georgia Department of Transportation’s project-selection process and cited the trucks lanes as an example. The audit focused on the initial screening that put projects on a list to receive funding.
Among other things, it found the department does not conduct cost-benefit analyses for projects before selecting them for funding. And it lacks a formal process and criteria for its initial selection decisions.
A 2008 study found the truck lanes might be a good investment but made no recommendation. After GDOT gave it a green light, a consultant estimated the new truck lanes would reduce vehicle hours of delay by 40 percent in the corridor.
GDOT cited that study as evidence the lanes are needed. And it said the selection process in question was just an initial screening – not a final determination that a project would get built. It said a one-size-fits-all project selection process and reliance on data alone could mean worthy projects don’t get selected.
Thursday’s action by the ARC committee was a key – though still early – step in the approval process. A project cannot qualify for federal funding unless it is included in the region’s long-term transportation plan. The committee’s unanimous vote made the truck lanes part of that plan. They are set for construction sometime in the next decade.
The projects in the amendment must still undergo environmental and other reviews, and the public will have more opportunities to weigh in.
Still, the Southern Environmental Law Center criticized the decision to move forward with the plan amendment in a letter to the ARC. Among other things, it cited the audit critical of the truck lanes. And it said more public input is needed on the amendment. ARC received no other written comments on the plan amendment approved Thursday.
You can read more about the truck lanes here.