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Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, officials hold ceremony for Ga. 400 express lanes
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Rob Woodall, center, applauds as GDOT Chairman Russell McMurry shakes hands with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, left, who visited Forsyth County on Friday. - photo by Jim Dean

The smell of asphalt hung in the air on Exit 12 of Ga. 400 on Friday as locals, workers and officials, including U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, celebrated new funds for express lanes on the highway.

Friday’s ceremony, held in the middle of the exit’s cloverleaf, celebrated $184 million in Infrastructure for Rebuilding America, or INFRA, grant funding to add two express lanes on each side of Ga. 400 from the North Springs Marta Station in Sandy Springs to McGinnis Ferry Road and one express lane in each direction from McGinnis Ferry to McFarland Parkway. 

“This important project will enhance safety, decrease travel times and improve the quality of life for the people in this area,” Chao said.

Express lanes are optional toll lanes along existing lanes aimed at allowing drivers to bypass congestion.

The lanes are not planned to reduce the number of normal lanes on the road, including new lanes funded through a $200 million transportation bond approved by voters in 2014.

According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, the new lanes will add 65 miles of road and reduce traffic delays by 18 percent.

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Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao talks about working with the Georgia Department of Transporation on projects Friday, June 29, 2018. - photo by Jim Dean

Chao said the administration of President Donald Trump signed the “One Federal Decision” executive order, which “directs all federal government agencies to work together to speed up the delivery of new infrastructure” by streamlining the permitting of projects.

“This means less paperwork, less red tape and more timely improvements that will better protect the environment and our quality of life,” she said.

Also speaking at the event were GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry, State Road and Tollway Authority Executive Director Chris Tomlinson, state Rep. Kevin Tanner, state Sen. Brandon Beach, Congressman Rob Woodall and Congresswoman Karen Handel.

“Perhaps the biggest impact of these new lanes of this project will on be the quality of life for all who call this region, this corridor, home,” Handel said. “Moms and dads will be able to make it to their child’s baseball game, get to that recital without having to take off a half day from work. The dreaded daily commute will be a lot easier.”

Officials pointed out the shorter commutes could also mean economic benefits to the region.

McMurray said Georgia received the highest amount of INFRA funding among all states.

“Some 230,000 cars each day traverse this area, and the express lanes really represent a solution to congestion by offering a choice to motorists and also a significant benefit to transit users along this corridor by having reliable trip times,” he said.

Tanner, who represents a portion of north Forsyth and is chairman of the state House transportation committee, said leaders will need to find transportation solutions for the rapidly-growing metro area.

“We’re growing at 100,000 people a year in this 13-county region. That’s a million a decade,” Tanner said. “We’re going to have to be innovative.”

Previously, GDOT officials said construction for the express lanes is slated to begin in 2021 and be completed by 2024.

Once other projects are completed, the new Ga. 400 lanes will tie in with express lanes on I-285 between I-75 and I-85.

The projects are one of 11 Major Mobility Investment program projects from around the state. The projects include interstate widenings for options of I-85 and I-16, commercial vehicle lanes on I-75 near Macon and interchange reconstruction projects on I-16 and I-285.

The projects total $11 billion.