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ARC's $173B Transportation Plan Only Scratching Atlanta's Congestion Surface

Even as Metro Atlanta's population is expected to swell by an additional 3 million residents over the next three decades, nearly 60% of the funding for the new regional transportation improvement blueprint just approved by the Atlanta Regional Commission is slated to go to fixing existing infrastructure.

ARC's $173B Transportation Plan Only Scratching Atlanta's Congestion Surface
Congestion along Interstate 285 heading west, just past Spaghetti Junction.

The ARC is funding $172.9B in a combination of federal, state and local funding to pay for a host of transportation improvement projects throughout its 10-county region, including $600M for the expansion of MARTA rail from the East Point Station to the city of Jonesboro in Clayton County.

Fifty-nine percent of the total funding, or $102B, will go to maintaining and modernizing existing roads and transit, ARC Senior Principal Planner David Haynes said. A 2017 report by the U.S. Council of Mayors predicted that Atlanta's population will surpass 8 million residents by 2046, up from 5.7 million today. That would make Metro Atlanta the country's sixth-largest metro area.

“When you're adding 2.9 million people to a region that is already struggling to address congestion and mobility options, it's tough," Haynes said. "So I don't think we want to sugarcoat this plan. It makes inroads along certain corridors and areas and hot spots … but congestion is going to stay with us."

Last year, U.S. News & World Report found Metro Atlanta has the sixth-longest average commute in the country, with an average commute time of 31.4 minutes. The American Transportation Research Institute last year also ranked three metro Atlanta corridors as having among the worst traffic bottlenecks in the nation for truck drivers, including the intersections of Interstates 75 and 20 with I-285 as well as the I-285 interchange at Interstate 85, known as Spaghetti Junction, which had the second-worst bottleneck in the nation behind Interstate 95 and State Route 4 in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

Gwinnett County Chair Commission
Gwinnett County Commission Chair Charlotte Nash

Some of the more prominent road expansion projects include reconstruction of key interchanges, including Interstate 285 at Georgia 400 — which is already well underway — reconstruction of I-285 at Interstates 20 both west and east, widening Sugarloaf Parkway in Gwinnett County and widening Lenox Road to Peachtree Road in Buckhead.

“I believe that the plan adopted yesterday is a good one. However, as you know, transportation planning is iterative in nature. The regional transportation plan will continue to evolve over the years, with regular updates to adapt to changing needs and funding,” Gwinnett County Commission Chair Charlotte Nash said in an email to Bisnow.

“In particular, I anticipate that more jurisdictions in the region will seek expanded transit solutions since state legislation has given counties the ability to fund those through local sales tax upon voter approval.”

Nash is a board member of the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority, a regional transit coordination agency known as The ATL that was set up in 2019.

The ARC plan also includes funding for a host of transportation alternatives, including expanding bike trails, expanding bus rapid transit lines — including a system connecting Georgia State University Stadium to both MARTA and the Atlanta BeltLine — and the expansion of Atlanta's streetcar network along Jackson Street to Ponce de Leon Avenue.

“[The plan] does move the needle in the right direction,” Haynes said. “Honestly, I'm not sure you could ever throw enough money at a region that is growing as fast as ours … to fix everything out there. I don't know that any plan could ever solve all our problems.”