Although the construction is taking place in Cobb and Cherokee, Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) External Affairs Manager Jill Goldberg said one of the biggest beneficiaries of the $834 million Northwest Corridor Project are Bartow County commuters.
"People coming from this area will get the greatest benefit out of it because they get in early and they're able to take advantage of not being in the traffic," she said at a Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce event Monday morning. "From this area, you would come down Interstate 75 just in your regular travel lanes and you'll have an opportunity to slip into the system before you get to Wade Green Road, you'll be able to get in before that bottleneck. It's really going to help you if you're going into town, or you need to get to Marietta, or you need to get to Interstate 285 to get around to the airport."
The project entails almost 30 miles of new express lanes running parallel to Interstate 75 and Interstate 575. Along I-75 the corridor extends from about Wade Green Road to a little beyond Interstate 285, with managed lane interchanges near Hickory Grove Road, Big Shanty Road, Roswell Road and Terrell Mill Road. Goldberg said the project is about 95 percent complete, with lanes expected to open in late August or early September.
"The importance of a project like this, an express lane, it's really done for commuters," she said. "It provides an option for people to live in the community they want to live in, but be able to get to a job, work, school or activities that are in the urban area in a reliable time."
The corridor project employs a reversible lane system. In the morning the lanes flow southward towards Atlanta and in the evening they flow northbound to the suburbs. Bartow commuters traveling southbound will be able to access the express lane via a slip ramp in northern Cobb County.
"[The] dedicated access point is a new intersection, basically, that's built on a surface street," she said. "It's fully signalized ... it has a light, a turn lane, everything you need to get in and out safely from this. It will be gated and you'll know if it's opened or closed because you'll see signage before you get to it."
She said GDOT has taken many precautions to ensure driver safety on the express lanes.
"It's very clearly marked and not confusing to people when they're in there at all," she said. "Each one of the entrances has somewhere between three and nine warning gates just depending on how long your entrance ramp is ... there's plenty of warning you're doing something wrong."
Commuters must have either a Peach Pass or Sun Pass to use the lanes. Goldberg said she anticipates pricing to be set in about six weeks. The State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA), she said, is likely to set the rate somewhere between 10 cents to 90 cents per mile traveled.
There will also be a 50-cent flat fee to access the lanes, no matter when or for how long a motorist uses it.
GDOT, she said, anticipates "nearly 17 million trips in these lanes in about 20 years."
Transportation projects of the like, she said, are vital to reducing gridlock in metro Atlanta.
"We're expecting to get about 2 million more people over the next 10 years [and] if we're not doing programs like this, they would just be on the same roads we have and it would get more and more congested," she said. "By the year 2040, potentially, another 250,000 people could reach the Town Center area for work by using this system ... you can save, potentially, 43 minutes by using the express lane system."
While Goldberg did not have a concrete number for the project's estimated economic impact, SRTA Manager of Communications and Media Relations Jodi Scott said it could be comparable to the economic impact of the E-470 express lanes in Colorado. According to a 2015 Economic & Planning Systems study, the six-county express lane system in the Denver metropolitan statistical area has "catalyzed" $38.4 billion in real estate valuation since 1986.
The Northwest Georgia Corridor Project was financed through a combination of state and federal grants, including a $275 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan, according to the United States Department of Transportation.
Scott said SRTA anticipates maintenance and operation costs of the new express lanes to total about $86 million over the next five years. A 2016 Stantec Inc. report estimates the Northwest Corridor Project generating about $5.7 million in revenue over the 2019 fiscal year and about $86 million altogether over the next half decade.