GRIDLOCK GUY: Delays in fixing freeway lighting are silly and dangerous

Let’s spin the “Traffic Topic Road-lette Wheel” for this week’s column. It first lands on “Woman injured in Gwinnett County road rage shooting.” Ridiculous, senseless, and happens far too often. Thankfully, she survived.

Another spin: “Ozuna takes video-selfie while driving.” Marcell Ozuna has started finding his stride with the Braves over the last month and his rapport with fans is rebounding, despite recently being pulled from a game for a lack of hustle. But stunts like this are so confusing.

Ozuna recently posted the incriminating video on his Instagram story. The car was obviously in motion, as he and his buddies sang a song together. This is ironic and idiotic, considering his DUI and speeding arrest last August. But I have written enough in the last month about athletes’ bad driving. Georgia drivers’ malaise with the Hands-Free Georgia Act is alarming.

Yet another “Road-lette” spin and we land on a recent intriguing Ch. 2 Action News investigation on unworking street lights along I-75 in Clayton and Henry counties.

A concerned southside citizen began pressing state and local governments to fix the I-75 street lights, after noticing less and less being online and some that were dark at night, but burning bright during the day.

If that isn’t eyebrow-raising enough, local governments are generally in charge of maintaining their street lights, even though they are located along state-maintained roads. This has led to some bureaucratic vapor lock.

“So, wire theft, vandalism and then just general lights not working anymore because they’re about six years old,” GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale told Ch. 2 Action News’ Sophia Choi. GDOT installed the lights below I-675 in 2017, in conjunction with the opening of the South Metro Peach Pass Express Lanes.

The state, Dale said, is going ahead and committing to fixing those particular lights and working to coordinate repairs with Georgia Power, who told Ch. 2 that they hope all lights will be functioning again in the coming weeks. The power provider said they are waiting on supplies and that they already have corrected the lights that were erroneously running in daylight.

The problem, however, is not fully solved.

I-75 has been dark at night for most of the stretch between Kennesaw and Marietta. This span has seen several deadly crashes in the middle of the night and some have involved pedestrians or people standing outside of their stopped vehicles.

One of the most gruesome was back in April, when successive crashes behind a stalled vehicle killed two. That crash and investigation shut down I-75/northbound near Delk Road until late in morning rush hour.

Marietta PD officers told WSB Triple Team Traffic’s Ashley Frasca those lights on I-75 have been dark for quite some time and Frasca herself has noticed it on her early drives each morning to 95.5 WSB’s studios.

The reason the lights are out is similar to those on the south side. Vandals and thieves systematically removed copper from the lightboxes. And while GDOT maintains I-75 itself, the state says those lights are Cobb County’s responsibility.

GDOT offered to fix the Henry County lights, because they also light the Express Lanes. But the I-75 lights in the median through Marietta do not; the reversible Express Lanes run west of the interstate and have their own lighting system.

Some may ask why the expressway lighting is even necessary. There aren’t side streets and crosswalks and people are not stopping on I-75 to turn into businesses. Interstates outside of Metro Atlanta are often darker at night than those in-town. Some freeways stunted or shuttered lighting during the recession 15 years ago to save money.

Those arguments would hold more water if the lighting structures had not already been built. But since they are in place, local governments need to start owning the maintenance of the lights that show the way on the very expressways on which the municipalities collect precious ticket revenue.

Jurisdictional gridlock causes other problems on the roads. For example, a crash on the DeKalb County-City of Atlanta line can spur confusion between first responders about who holds responsibility. The line is even more muddled because Atlanta Fire responds to certain incidents inside DeKalb County.

Interstate lighting seems more straightforward. I have asked GDOT multiple times about the dark stretches and they always reply that the cities or counties have the mantle.

Given how poorly the collective driving IQ has become, local governments need to take seriously any element that road enhances safety. There seems to be a correlation on I-75 in Cobb County between darkness and bad crashes. Cobb government needs to act now - the lives of motorists and first responders are at risk.

For AJC subscribers only: join Doug, along with the AJC’s David Wickert and Kelly Yamanouchi for a live, virtual event that discusses Atlanta traffic in a post-COVID world on Thursday, June 15th, from 2-2:30 p.m. (For print only: register at live.ajc.com).

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.





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