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Posted: 7:08 a.m. Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Traffic Vocabulary Class Part 1: The Roads 

By Doug Turnbull

Grasping the lingo of the Atlanta roads is tough for a native and even worse for a transplant. Longtime Metro Atlanta residents can't even agree on the one name to call the Downtown Connector or what to call the direction they are traveling on I-285. Our tough mission on WSB is not just to fully cover all Atlanta roads in a remarkably short time, but also to identify them by enough names that most listeners and viewers will know where we are talking about. But us traffic reporters do get bogged down in our own speak sometimes, so here is a guide to what some code names mean. My colleague and comrade Mark Arum put together a great list of confusing traffic names in his AJC "Gridlock Guy" column a couple of years ago. This list has some of those names and a few others he could not fit in a limited space.

Downtown Connector - The South's busiest stretch of pavement is where I-75 and I-85 merge together for about 10 miles, between the 17th Street bridge and Highway 166. The technical, correct name is "I-75/85", but people often identify it as "The Connector," "The Downtown Connector," or either "I-75" or "I-85." The exit numbers on the Connector follow those of I-75.

Brookwood - Where I-75 and I-85 come together to form the Downtown Connector on the north side. This is named after the neighborhood in and near that triangle and is used to describe a mile-plus stretch on I-75, I-85, and I-75/85 near this merge. We use this term in traffic reports all the time. Really, the best way to describe it is "near 17th Street."

South split - Where I-75 and I-85 merge or split near Highway 166 on the south end of the Downtown Connector. Not many people call this area by that name, but enough do to warrant an explanation.

Perimeter - Another name for I-285, the 60-plus mile bypass around Downtown Atlanta. You may hear a portion of I-285 described as the "north side Perimeter," "south side Perimeter," etc. But don't call the north end of I-285 "the Top End." That implies the other side is "the Bottom End" - it deserves better than that. Perimeter Mall, incidentally, is located on Ashford Dunwoody Road north of I-285 and the surrounding area is known as "Perimeter." When I-285 near there goes to the dogs, the streets near Perimeter Mall jam up as well. Their sharing a name is quite fitting.

Inner and Outer Loop (a.k.a. - Inner and Outer Ring) - Used to describe where you are traveling on I-285. Simply put: the Inner Loop travels clockwise and the Outer Loop counter-clockwise. If you think of the median wall as the dividing line of the entire I-285 circle, traffic on that inside wall is the Inner Loop and traffic on the outside of that wall is the Outer Loop. This took me two months to understand as an 18-year-old in my infancy as a traffic reporter. If you get confused on the cardinal direction on I-285 you may be, this Inner and Outer Loop description helps.

I-285 northbound, southbound, eastbound, westbound - This is tricky. Even street signs do not agree on this and police and 911 dispatchers constantly misidentify whether something is on I-285 northbound or eastbound. I-285 changes directions at different bends in the circle, where it meets other interstates. Starting in Cobb County, I-285 at I-75 is called "eastbound" and goes east from I-75 all the way to I-85 in DeKalb. Then I-285 bends south at I-85, changing names to I-285 southbound. Once it crosses I-20, I-285 changes names to I-285 westbound, even though I-285 points nearly north and south at that point. When I-285 crosses I-85 in Fulton County, it changes names again from westbound to northbound and then is called that all the way past the Airport up to I-75, where we started. If you go the opposite direction, the names change accordingly at the same places. The exercise in understanding this works much better if you look at a map - then you can see geographically where the changes take place and it makes much more sense.

Spaghetti Junction - Where I-285 and I-85 intersect in DeKalb County and so named for the large number of ramps that not only connect each direction of each interstate, but also some roads to each other. For instance, there is a separate ramp that connects Buford Highway just to I-85 and to Chamblee Tucker Road, because Buford Highway traffic cannot get onto I-285/eastbound (Inner Loop) before those exits. There is also a Pleasantdale Rd. ramp to Buford Hwy., which also takes traffic onto I-285/westbound (Outer Loop) and there are collector distributor ramps on I-85 in both directions at I-285 in that area. This used to be called "Malfunction Junction" and still is a slow joint in the mornings and afternoons.

Cobb Cloverleaf - Where I-75 and I-285 intersect in Cobb County and named because the ramps loop on each side to look like a clover. This system works just like Spaghetti Junction, with ramps and nearby roads connected in a confusing Cat's Cradle that is hell to try to identify. Not only are there the normal ramps, but also the old "low" ramps from I-75 to I-285, which make finding crashes on cameras and taking info from our #750 Traffic Troopers as difficult as driving these ramps in the rain.

Stone Mountain Freeway - The name for U.S. Highway 78, where it is limited access between N. Druid Hills Rd, and West Park Place Blvd. (just east of Stone Mountain Park) in DeKalb County and barely part of Gwinnett County. Once Hwy. 78 goes from exits to traffic lights, it becomes Stone Mountain Highway and stays with that name until Snellville. In Snellville it switches names to E. Main St. and then assumes several different names, including simply "Highway 78" after that through Grayson and Loganville. Your best bet is to just call it Hwy. 78 and be done with it.

East Freeway - I-20 anywhere east of the Downtown Connector/I-75/85.

West Freeway - I-20 anywhere west of I-75/85. The names of these freeways do not mean the direction being traveled.

Bankhead Highway - Changed names about 10 years ago to Hollowell Pkwy. in the City of Atlanta, but is called "Bankhead Hwy.", "Veterans Memorial Hwy.", and several other names on the west side of town. Once out of the area where it is called Hollowell Pkwy., identifying it as Hwy. 78 (yes the same 78 on the east side) is easiest.

The Big Three – I-75, I-85, and GA-400 from north of the Downtown Connector, past I-285, to the northern suburbs. GA-400 is technically not an interstate, but it’s big enough and traveled enough that we treat it as one.

University Pkwy. – Almost no one calls Highway 316 from I-85 to UGA in Athens by this name, but there are street signs that do. When in doubt, go with the number of the state highway.

Northeast Expressway – This is the proper name for the access roads that run next to I-85 northbound and southbound in DeKalb County. The confusing part about this is that people call it that and don’t say which side of the road they are located. That makes a big difference. We call it the I-85 northbound or southbound Access Road to eliminate confusion. Some people call I-85 itself the “Northeast Expressway,” but that isn’t accurate.

Highway 9 – This road changes names more than Taylor Swift changes boyfriends. It starts in Buckhead and Sandy Springs as Roswell Rd., then changes to Alpahretta Hwy. in Roswell. Hwy. 9 then goes by several different road names through the Roswell and Alpharetta downtown areas (including changing back to Alpharetta Highway), before settling as Atlanta Hwy. and Dahlonega Hwy. in Forsyth Co. Again, a rule of thumb: go by the number, not by the name on most state routes and you rarely go wrong.

There are exceptions to the notion of calling roads by only their highway numbers. Roads like Clairmont Rd., N. Druid Hills Rd., and Buford Hwy. in DeKalb are all numbered highways, but are almost exclusively called by their names. And some state routes are better known by their U.S. Highway names, such as Lawrenceville Highway/Highway 29 (also called State Route 8, but no one calls it that) or Highway 78 in DeKalb and Gwinnett (State Route 10). The only true way to learn what to really call the roads is to live in Atlanta – for years. GPS devices do not have that luxury and call roads by their official names. Be careful with that.

Out of breath yet? There are plenty more roads we could go through, but these are some big ones. Next week, I’ll spell out what some of the traffic jargon means that us cone head reporters use. If you have any words or roads you want defined or questions answered, shoot me an email ( or Tweet me ( 

Doug Turnbull

About Doug Turnbull

Doug has been an Atlanta traffic reporter and producer as part of WSB's award-winning team since 2004 and has been covering NASCAR the news team and since then, as well.

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