Atlanta traffic bears an inevitability and conjures a resignation. Very few events curb it. Finished road projects may beat it back, but population growth beckons the gridlock again. Rain causes it. Sun causes it. The parallax of stop and go traffic allows that it will always stop again - somewhere or sometime. That “stop” doesn’t need much of an invitation to show up at the banquet and bring its friends.
With so many road projects constantly in place to eventually improve Atlanta’s road system, the delays they cause are mandatory. But the goal for any road or lane closure should be to, at most costs, minimize the impact on the commute. This thinking is why driving on weekends is so miserable: because weekday commutes are seen as sacred.
But even this thinking on weekends gets taken to the extreme juxtaposition, as evidenced by the three or four left lanes blocked each way on I-75 in Marietta the last few weekends. The delays from that were terrible. And while more could have been done to alert motorists of the impending doom and news outlets could have underlined it, the delays at least stayed well out of rush hour.
This has not been the case during several recent weeknight or midday projects. Crews on I-85/southbound in north Gwinnett had to stay out far into an AM drive last month. The reason is because a tack machine got too far ahead of the rest of the crew and the lane wasn’t dry until morning drive was half-over. The delays were awful.
Just this past Tuesday, a striping machine broke. So, lane-paint on I-285/westbound (Outer Loop) between Ashford Dunwoody Road (exit 29) and Riverside Drive (exit 24) stayed wet and crews had to leave the four left lanes closed until into the 6 a.m. hour. Their picking up the closure also went painstakingly slow - it took close to an hour. I flew over this in the WSB Skycopter, as I-285 backed up all the way to I-85, thus jamming I-85/southbound from Gwinnett and Peachtree Industrial/southbound, too.
⚠️ TRAVEL ADVISORY Dunwoody/Sandy Springs: I-285/wb (Outer Loop) w of GA-400 (Exit 27), late road work slowly being pulled three left lanes. Big delays from P’tree Industrial. Use Mt. Vernon Hwy. #ATLtraffic pic.twitter.com/YkUskjqRzf— Fireball Turnbull (@DougTurnbull) October 9, 2018
A lane closure on I-675/southbound at Highway 138 in Stockbridge lasted late into PM drive a couple of weeks ago. That caused a big backup also and the explanation there was also pavement that did not dry.
These delayed re-openings all had explanations: equipment or paving failures. Just bad luck or human error caused the lane closures to remain in place past the deadlines. But then there are other closures that are perplexing. For example, paving crews in Lawrenceville recently have stayed out through PM drive on Highway 20/northbound north of Highway 316. This isn’t in the sticks, this is in a high traffic-density area. And they just continued this non-emergency work, rush hour be damned.
Decisions like that are unacceptable. The Departments of Transportation on the state level and then down to the county levels need to enforce with iron might the sanctity of open roads during rush hours. And in doing so, they need to consider widening the windows of when drive times take place. No longer is 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. a dead zone. Rush hours normally last longer and start earlier. And 5 a.m. needs to be the hard quitting time for overnight crews, because jams are often large when closures stay in place until or past 6 a.m.
Yes, this never ending list of road projects leaves a damage trail of delays in the off hours also. And yes, GDOT could use more tact when they close lanes on weekends and how many they allow blocked at once. But at the very least, Atlanta traffic needs its rush hours are clear as possible. Traffic is bad enough on its own and when accidentals spoil it, without traffic professionals making mistakes and leaving lanes blocked. This continuously growing city cannot afford unnecessary lanes blocked.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.