Gridlock Guy: GPS-dependence again leads Sandy Springs drivers astray

This picture shows many drivers who missed newly relocated I-285 ramps stacking up in the remaining GA-400/southbound lanes in Sandy Springs.

Some stretches of Atlanta’s roads are quite tricky to navigate. Even for natives, driving in an unfamiliar area is difficult and requires extra awareness and concentration. The advent of GPS devices and eventually smartphone apps has greatly alleviated that commuting experience. But that convenience has created a dependence - a crutch on vivid display recently on GA-400/southbound in Sandy Springs.

Months ago, GDOT began rebuilding the GA-400 bridge deck over Abernathy Road and shifted GA-400 traffic out of the main lanes and to the right, onto the newly built CD ramps. This kink in the flow slowed traffic and the smaller, temporary ramps in the area backed up quickly. That is life in a work zone.

The signage for the numerous changes in the years-long Transform 285/400 project has been inconsistent and motorists have easily been confused when ramps’ locations have changed. Sometimes temporary, smaller ramps replace familiar ones. Or newer, commodious ramps open and begin far before drivers were used to exiting.

GDOT completed its bridge rebuild over Abernathy and was set to “un-shift” this last, changed section of GA-400/southbound, but had to delay this for a week because of weather. When the state finally put GA-400 back into its original lanes early on Sunday, January 29th, they also opened brand new ramps to I-285, which are about one mile further north than before.

Placing ramps earlier is part of the main goal of this Transform 285/400 project, forcing local traffic to decide to exit earlier and then sequestering it from the main lanes, so all traffic can move faster.

But the adjustment period for these changes often creates greater backups. When drivers miss exits, they remain in the main lanes. And a confused driver is a slower driver. Then they back up the next exit ramp, as they plot how to orient themselves in the correct direction.

Besides simply being surprised, commuters often miss relocated exit ramps because they are solely dependent on GPS apps. Blindly following this oft-accurate technology can sometimes lead one astray.

On Monday morning, January 30th, WSB Triple Team Traffic quickly noticed that people were struggling and missing the ramp. Though there was rain and an incident or two to blame for the jammed ride from Alpharetta, the new ramp-placement definitely added delays.

By Tuesday, GDOT had added some extra digital signs and a slew of cones to help identify the new I-285 exit ramps, which now are basically even with the ramp to Abernathy Road (Exit 5).

One of the reasons the delays were so rough was because once motorists missed their desired ramps, they filed down to the remaining two or three lanes on GA-400. That narrow corridor jammed up and then caused a domino effect of delays back for miles.

GPS-obedience aided the problem here. Since Google and Apple Maps had not yet changed the ramp placement, they still directed drivers to the old ramps. One such driver told us they even saw the new ramps, but were afraid to break from what the GPS told them and followed it anyway. Of course, they missed the I-285 ramps and added several minutes to their trip.

An easy rule of thumb for following turn-by-turn directions is to simply read the directions over beforehand. Knowing the exit number to look for or the direction to take goes a long way in not getting as confused.

Sometimes, GPS programs will tell drivers to take a ramp named, for example, “I-285 East.” But the desired direction is actually the westbound ramp, which is attached to the eastbound one. A driver knowing well beforehand that they need to go west helps override the kinks and quirks of GPS navigation. A decisive driver that doesn’t make a last second lane change is a quicker driver.

Turn-by-turn navigation does not steal the responsibility of steering from the motorist. The driver is the captain and GPS is a tool. We all need to take our commutes by the horns and know ahead of time where we are going, so we don’t get fleeced when a program hasn’t caught up to conditions or changes.

Some foresight by hundreds of Sandy Springs drivers last week on GA-400 would certainly have saved them and others some headaches.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.





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