GRIDLOCK GUY: Long-term closures evidence Atlantans can handle road disasters

South Cobb Drive detour map

GDOT’s announcement of the full closure of South Cobb Drive came a few days before it went into effect. Crews shut down the busy Marietta thoroughfare after the conclusion of the Tuesday morning rush hour on March 19th. And the news raised eyebrows.

How could the state close such a big road for two months? What would Lockheed or Dobbins employees do? A traffic disaster loomed like an approaching tidal wave.

Well, not really.

With a few days’ notice and a traffic plan - Marietta PD diverted S. Cobb Dr. traffic onto Highway 41 and to Victory Drive - people adjusted. While there has been some extra traffic on Hwy. 41 (Cobb Parkway), the South 120 Loop, Fairground Street, Victory Dr., and other surrounding roads, there were enough channels to absorb the blow. And traffic on S. Cobb Dr. itself really was not that bad.

This just goes to show that people can react well when there is notice and there is a plan. Flawless execution.

A road improvement project in Sandy Springs to improve pedestrian mobility and reduce a vehicle bottleneck saw lane closures go into place in the last two weeks. While Johnson Ferry Road and Mount Vernon Highway are busy arteries, there are ways around them and the closures really don’t warrant alternate routes. That is good, because the closures could be in place for a couple of years.

Again, the lane interruptions and traffic shifts sounded worse than they were.

The fall of 2022 saw a months-long lane-reduction of I-285 between Sandy Springs and Dunwoody, as crews replaced the I-285 bridges over several roads. While this did reduce the capacity of the busiest stretch of one of Metro Atlanta’s busiest freeways by 40%, the whole ordeal could have gone worse. People adjusted and were given months of notice. In fact, the whole squeeze was postponed for close to a year.

Once the lane-reduction commenced, traffic was sub-speed limit for most hours of the day and nearly gridlocked in rush hours. However, enough people telecommuted or took different routes to take a bite out of some of the mess.

People accepted the new normal, adjusted routes, and set expectations.

The most epic long-term closure in Atlanta history nears its seven-year anniversary. When a fire under I-85 south of the GA-400 merge collapsed the northbound bridge and caused the full closure and replacement of both directions of the interstate, the dread of impending months of gridlock seemed insurmountable. The major backups on that awful Thursday night should have been a harbinger of rush hours to come. Instead, Atlantans mapped out alternate routes or took MARTA and eased the pain of a 40-plus-day total closure of an interstate. Yes, side roads like Piedmont and Cheshire Bridge were packed. And I-285 saw extra traffic, too. But commuters were resilient and did not allow the delays to meet the hype.

Unplanned closures throw drivers for much bigger loops. A crash in two right lanes on a freeway or a sinkhole on Peachtree can each cause major delays. Even when an incident lasts for hours (or days, in the sinkhole’s case), people continue to pile right into the backup and extend it even more.

I harp on this again and again in this column: planning before a commute can save so much time during it. Atlanta drivers should listen to reports on 95.5 WSB for the biggest problems and check their routes on our Triple Team Traffic Alerts App. The WSB Traffic Team in our 24-Hour Traffic Center scours maps, cameras, police info, and other information to find the latest problems on the roads.

Atlanta traffic is largely unpredictable, though motorists can flatten the curve with some moderate preparation. Atlantans have shown they can navigate the long-term closures or reductions of some of the metro area’s biggest roads, as long as there is forewarning. With all of the havoc, gear-grinding, and bad news on the streets, at least there is some hope out there.

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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