Headed in the Right Direction
Georgia’s Northwest Corridor Express Lanes Project

By Kasie Bolling

In an ever-growing city like Atlanta, traffic congestion is always a major challenge – one that impacts both economic growth and quality of life. The Northwest Corridor (NWC) project and its Express Lanes are a critical component of a strategic transportation plan to provide options for more reliable travel times on one of the region’s busiest thoroughfares, the I-75 corridor in Cobb County. To put it into perspective, the I-75 and I-285 interchange has an average traffic rate of more than 450,000 vehicles per day – that’s more than 164 million vehicles passing through each year. The Northwest Corridor Express Lanes will be a part of the Georgia Express Lanes System, a growing network of new toll lanes that are being constructed along existing interstates throughout Atlanta.

Express lanes are being recognized as an innovative way to address congestion, add capacity and support transit. With the success of the I-85 Georgia Express Lanes and other similar systems across the country, Express Lanes have proved to be a cost-effective way of providing commuters with much-needed travel alternatives along high traffic volume corridors. Motorists have the choice to pay the toll and use the Express Lanes when they need to, while the general purpose lanes remain open to travel without a toll. The demand-based pricing of the tolls helps to ensure that the Express Lanes offer a more predictable commute time. Tolling also offsets construction, maintenance and operation costs.

“The primary benefit of the Northwest Corridor Express Lanes is that they will provide an option for motorists to use when needed, whether it is to arrive at a meeting on time, pick a child up from day care or school, catch a flight at the airport or just get home to spend time with family and friends,” explained Stephen Lively, Senior Project Manager on NWC for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). “This will positively impact motorists who choose to travel southbound in the Express Lanes during morning peak hours and returning northbound in the evening when the lanes are reversed, with an estimated time savings of five to 45 minutes each trip.”

“The Express Lanes should also help improve congestion in the existing general purpose lanes since some motorists and transit vehicles will be choosing to use the Express Lanes instead. The result of improved traffic flow in the general purpose lanes is expected to save those users up to 16 minutes. Express Lanes offer more reliable and predictable trip times and a way to bypass congestion. Even during the heaviest commute times, congestion-based toll pricing allows Express Lanes to maintain free-flowing travel,” says Lively. “In addition, an estimated 1.32 million potential Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and Cobb County Transit (CobbLinc) bus riders annually are expected to benefit from the Express Lanes by providing access for buses at no additional charge.”

Two years into the project with nearly two more to go, project contractor – Northwest Express Roadbuilders (NWER) – hopes to shrink the footprint of the project in terms of traffic impacts as much as possible by the end of 2016. This will include satisfying the majority of requirements north of I-75 along I-575 and thus alleviating the vast majority of traffic impacts in the northern portion of the project.

However, work will still continue in the same fashion south of the I-75/I-575 split – comprising bridge foundation, bridge substructure and superstructure, retaining walls, earthwork, asphalt and concrete paving, sound wall construction, lighting installation, tolling point foundation and tolling point gantry work. NWER plans to accomplish the majority of work for the entire project by the end of 2017. Until that time comes, commuters can expect continued lane closures and intermittent detours, as needed. The NWC project team strives to work during off-peak hours with minimal impact to the traveling public, and GDOT provides notice to the public when there are higher impact construction activities such as detours, traffic paces and multiple lane closures. A weekly update is emailed to subscribers regarding upcoming traffic impacts, as well as a quarterly newsletter update which provides notable project highlights and project milestones. To sign-up to receive these email updates and traffic alerts, visit the dedicated page at www.dot.ga.gov/DS/GEL/NWC.

As reversible managed lanes are a new concept to Georgia drivers, a dedicated effort has been made to educate the public on the project by defining the managed lanes and detailing the location of access points for the managed lanes. GDOT is also partnering with the State Road and Tollway Authority to educate the public about PEACH passes, which are required to access the system.

“One of the largest factors that will contribute to the success of this Northwest Corridor Express Lanes Project is effectively educating the public on the Express Lanes concept, and continuing to make community outreach and public engagement a primary goal of the NWC project team,” said Lively. “The Northwest Corridor project is vital to the State of Georgia because it will help reduce congestion, provide more reliable travel times and help improve air quality in a heavily traveled region. Moreover, it will encourage further economic development in this vibrant area and will enhance the quality of life for all users.”

Northwest Corridor Project Snapshot

Project Description:
The Northwest Corridor Express Lanes project will add 29.7 miles of reversible toll lanes along I-75 from Akers Mill Road to Hickory Grove Road and along I-575 from I-75 to Sixes Road. Two new lanes will be built to the west of the existing lanes along I-75 from I-285 to I-575. From that interchange, one new express lane will be added along I-75 north to Hickory Grove Road and one new express lane will be added along I-575 from I-75 to Sixes Road. The lanes will be managed by dynamic priced tolling – allowing drivers to choose to pay a toll to bypass congestion, and will operate southbound in the morning and reverse to northbound operation in the evening.

Project Partners and Stakeholders:

  • Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT)
  • Northwest Express Roadbuilders (NWER) – a joint venture of Archer Western Contractors, LLC and Hubbard Construction Company (Project Contractor)
  • HNTB Corporation (Program Management Consultant)
  • State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA)
  • Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA)
  • Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC)
  • Cobb Community Transit (CCT)
  • Cobb and Cherokee Counties
  • Cities of Marietta, Smyrna, Kennesaw, Woodstock and Acworth
  • Town Center Area Community Improvement District (CID)
  • Cumberland CID

Construction Start Date:
October 2014

Projected Date to Open to the Public
Summer 2018

Projected Project Price Tag:
$834 million, including $536 million in public funding by the State of Georgia for capital costs.