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AJC: Plans Grow for Atlanta’s Ga. 400-Interstate 285 Interchange

Atlanta drivers know all too well the giant interchange at Interstates 85 and 285 northeast of the city—it’s called Spaghetti Junction for a reason. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked readers Sunday to imagine a similar tangle of bridges, ramps and access roads at the top end of the city’s Perimeter where it meets heavily traveled Ga. 400.

Associate Professor Michael Hunter reviewed plans for the massive project as part of the AJC’s analysis of the growing scope of the work:

Imagine the artfully contorted whorl of concrete that is Spaghetti Junction, transported nine miles to the west. That should give you some idea of the state’s plans for the revamped Ga. 400/I-285 interchange.

Now imagine three years of construction on one of the busiest stretches of road in Atlanta. That should give you some idea of the traffic nightmares that lie ahead.

The Ga. 400/I-285 rebuild, meant to ease traffic for 416,000 drivers a day, has always been a big undertaking. But in exclusive interviews, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution discovered that the project has morphed far beyond its original scope — to the possible delay of other projects in coming decades.

State leaders have latched on to a truly mammoth version of the concept, one that would add miles of lanes adjacent to both major highways and consume an amount almost equal to the state’s entire annual road construction budget.

At an estimated cost of $950 million, it would be the most expensive road project in state history, paid for by going at least $130 million into debt, not counting interest costs. It would take three years of heavy construction to build. And after it is completed in 2019, the debt payments could eat into the state’s regular construction budget, forcing other road projects to be put on hold.

Nevertheless, state officials believe the expanded version is worth the cost, because the result could transform traffic on the top end of the Perimeter. Both Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia Department of Transportation have labeled the congested interchange the state’s highest priority road project.

“It’s a tremendous undertaking,” said Michael Hunter, a professor of civil engineering at Georgia Tech who reviewed the conceptual design at the AJC’s request.

Read more from the AJC (subscription required).