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05/12/02 - I-285 CAUSED DEBATE AND CHANGE FOR METRO-ATLANTA (1957)

 AVOC COMMENT: This article demonstrates the phenomenon that “no matter how much many things change, many things remain the same”.

We lived in Cobb County in the mid and late ‘60’s. Traveling to and from Oconee County we used the Northern rim of I- 285. At that time it ended at U S 41 and we would follow a little one-lane dirt road to Highway 41 and access Windy Hill Road. The General Motors Plant and the Avon Building were about the only structures on the Highway for years.

That whole area has changed tremendously over the last 35 years with the booming population growth of the Atlanta area- especially North Metro. It boggles my mind to think what a “mess” the traffic would be had we not had the leaders with the vision and ability to build I-285 for the future.

This history of I-285 has relevance and lessons for many of our current debates on planning and development of transportation and infrastructure.

Wendell Dawson, President, AVOC, Inc.

Gwinnett Daily Post
Friday, May 10, 2002

I-285 planner recalls effort to build perimeter highway
By Laura Ingram, Staff Writer

SMYRNA - More than 40 years ago, metro Atlanta homeowners were arguing about another loop - Interstate 285.
In 1957, Emory Parrish started planning the four-lane road that would circle Atlanta for the state Department of Transportation. He would plan one section and then move on to the next as the public hearings and land purchases followed him.
At his kitchen table in his Smyrna home about 10 miles away from I-285,
Parrish recalled that people completely filled the old Atlanta City Auditorium at one of a handful public hearings. Those for it numbered as many as those against, he said.
Because the areas affected were mostly rural then, those losing their homes were fewer than in the Northern Arc controversy, and even those saw the benefits with Atlanta’s overwhelming traffic congestion at the time.
“People wanted roads,” Parrish explained. “The only thing was how much they would get for their property and the people who didn’t want to sell.”
Former Gov. Lester Maddox, who led I-285’s official opening riding on a car hood in 1969, recalled that some even objected because it did not run through or near enough to their property to make it more valuable.
At least one property owner sold the middle part of his land near a proposed interchange to DOT and kept both sides to sell at more lucrative prices when commercial uses soon took over, Maddox and Parrish recalled.

Why I-285 was built
To get to Atlanta through and from the suburban areas, drivers had to use too many two-lane roads that were usually clogged with traffic congestion.
The Atlanta Expressway System was being built in the 1950s, including Interstate 75, Interstate 85 and Interstate 20.
“All the traffic had to come through the middle of Atlanta,” Parrish said.
During the planning process, Parrish had his staff at each road that I-285 would cross to stop and ask people driving both directions where their trip originated and where it would end.
Parrish found that many people were having to drive to Atlanta to get to outlying areas. With I-285, they could avoid Atlanta and get to cities even south of the busy state capital.

How I-285 was used
As soon as the first sections of I-285 were completed, drivers started using them to avoid Atlanta.
“People just had to figure out when the road began, and where the road ended to get to where they needed to go,” Parrish said.
With denser populations and more traffic in DeKalb County, the first sections were finished there in the early 1960s.
By the time the last section opened in Cobb County in 1969, traffic volume on I-285 in DeKalb had grown so fast that DOT crews already had to go back and add a third and fourth lane.
However, Atlanta traffic volume in the 1960s would not rival the modern traffic jams on I-285, Parrish said.
“Traffic wouldn’t even compare to what it was now,” Parrish said.
DOT records that I-285 traffic volume increased by 274 percent in its first 30 years.
The DOT took about 10 years building the popular road because the agency only had so many staff members to work on each one. When the planning staff finished with one section and started another, the right-of-way staff would move in and so on, Parrish said.
A review of DOT construction projects over the last 30 years reveal that work on I-285 never actually stopped. Construction projects were being scheduled almost every year, DOT records indicate. Crews widened the road to six, then eight and 10 lanes in some areas, Parrish said.

The effect of I-285
Parrish knew what building I-285 would do. He had seen it before.
The
areas along I-85 were all residential before DOT crews began construction, Parrish recalled. Businesses soon cropped up.
Aerial photography of the proposed I-285 showed mostly farmland in the way. Some houses dotted the landscape, but no businesses existed in those areas, Parrish recalled.
“Businesses started opening as soon as we opened the interchanges,” Parrish said.
Opening I-285 also lead to many people moving out of the Atlanta area and into houses outside the perimeter.
“A lot of it was socioeconomic,” Parrish said. “A lot of people wanted to move outside of Atlanta and have larger lots, a large home and lower taxes. That was the dream of most Atlantans.”
Parrish moved to Smyrna in 1956, but he ended up about 10 miles from the South Cobb Drive interchange of I-285.

What Parrish expected with the Northern Arc
Parrish, who retired from the DOT in 1981 as a deputy commissioner, is not surprised by the controversy over the Northern Arc.
“I have seen it coming, not just with the Northern Arc, but with any highway,” Parrish said.
In
the 1970s, Parrish noticed that people started organizing to oppose roads for their neighbors over the other side of cities.
Before I-285 was finished, Parrish and state Rep. Hugh Lee McDaniel were already suggesting the “Outer Circumferential” that would have been triple the size of I-285. It would have included the Northern Arc and cost $00 million instead of the $.4 billion the Northern Arc alone is costing today, Parrish said.
This second loop may have had an easier birth 30 years ago with the lack of citizen organization and rural areas.
Maddox said, “If they had designed it in the 1970s like I told them to, they’d be going through a lot of rural areas now, and they wouldn’t be (going) through subdivisions. I’m sorry I didn’t get anywhere with it.”


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