DeKalb County’s Spaghetti Junction, the robust confluence of I-85 and I-285 and many adjacent and connecting ramps, has recently been rated again among the nation’s worst bottlenecks. The interchange runs in low gear during rush hours without any provocation and gets agonizingly slow at the hint of any lane blockage. The last two-plus weeks have seen a trio of outlier incidents that caused some extra PM rush hour delays.
On Thursday, February 23rd, WSB Triple Team Traffic’s Ashley Frasca heard something on the DeKalb Fire Department radio that we never have: a person was stuck in a storm drain at the end of the I-285 ramps to I-85/northbound. This sounded very unlikely. How and why does someone end up in a storm drain and on a freeway, no less?
We had just launched the WSB Skycopter and pivoted immediately to this group of firetrucks at the end of those ramps. Sure enough, they circled a grate on the right shoulder and eventually loaded someone onto a stretcher.
DeKalb FD got reports of a person in a drain I-85/nb just n. of I-285. A large group of firefighters are working around a drain now. Right lane blocked. Delays on both freeways. #ATLtraffic @wsbtraffic @wsbradio pic.twitter.com/zX23xI1mJq— 🔥Fireball Turnbull 🚁 (@DougTurnbull) February 23, 2023
This spectacle jammed I-285 both ways, since the rescue was at the end of where its ramps merge together and then ramp to I-85/northbound. It also caused onlooker delays on I-85/northbound back into Chamblee. From start to finish, the operation and closures took around an hour.
I reached out to DeKalb Fire to find out the how and why of this extraction. There aren’t many answers, since there was no police report and the rescued drain-dweller refused further medical treatment. The mystery remains.
Just last Tuesday, an occurrence we see too often played out just north of Spaghetti Junction. A person having a mental episode climbed onto the outside of the fence of the Jimmy Carter Boulevard bridge over I-85 in Norcross. Gwinnett PD responded quickly and soon shut down I-85 in both directions on either side of Exit 99.
With safety of both the distressed person and below motorists in mind, these situations can often last tediously long. With this unfolding right at 3 p.m. and the rush hour just getting underway, the resulting jams on I-85 and nearby I-285 could have been horrendous.
🚨RED ALERT Gwinnett Co: Police activity has I-85 SHUTDOWN in both directions at Jimmy Carter Blvd. Big jam. Use Buford Hwy. #ATLtraffic pic.twitter.com/6WlMHzS5sX— Triple Team Traffic (@WSBTraffic) March 7, 2023
Upon hearing about the closure in my 3:05 traffic report, one listener touchingly called the WSB 24-Hour Traffic Center to pray about the distressed person with me.
Fortunately, the first responders negotiated quickly and effectively with this man and he soon began walking to safety. Within 20 minutes of the initial closures, the freeway had completely reopened.
After arriving to safety, I watched on our Jam Cam as a woman on scene embraced the man and pulled him close, head to head, consoling him in this pivotal and heavy moment.
24 hours later, DeKalb FD responded to a call of the Chamblee Tucker Road bridge over I-85 being on fire. Any mention of a bridge fire immediately sends our thoughts back to the 2017 I-85 bridge fire and collapse in Northeast Atlanta.
DeKalb FD just arriving to a fire under the Chamblee Tucker bridge over I-85. They are staged on Chamb. Tuck./eb and on the I-85/nb exit ramp. Delays. #ATLtraffic pic.twitter.com/F3xy0qtv1m— Triple Team Traffic (@WSBTraffic) March 8, 2023
Thankfully, DeKalb FD arrived quickly and stationed both on the bridge and the interstate below. They doused the flames immediately but dealt for a while afterwards with hot bridge beams. Traffic was stacked for a while, as the crew staged in the right lanes of I-85/northbound and also blocked most of Chamblee Tucker/eastbound. But the situation was fully cleared within about an hour. There is no word on how the fire started.
I admittedly was skeptical when I heard the initial dispatches on all three of these calls. Many passersby think they see something that isn’t nearly as extreme as perceived when they call it into us or to 911. But the WSB Traffic Team and I ignored our reluctance and dug around to find the problems, which turned out to be very real.
Strange events in traffic, as evidenced, can break out at any time and often at the worst times. This just further proves the importance of checking traffic conditions before heading somewhere. Even then, the unexpected can happen quickly.
All three situations along I-85 in DeKalb and Gwinnett - the person in the drain, the man on the bridge, and the bridge on fire - could all have ended far more gravely and affected traffic in Spaghetti Junction far worse.
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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