Weather and road construction, combined with heavy traffic, cause major wear and tear on our roads. Two points of interest in 2020 caught my eye and prompted me to reach out to the Department of Transportation for how and why they unfolded.
Major construction projects require crews to shift travel lanes away from where they build bridges and other major structures. This traffic pattern change on I-285 near Ashford Dunwoody Road (Exit 29) in DeKalb actually caused holes to form in the road on the different seams between the ribbons of pavement and prompted a jam-inducing, rolling closure.
“When the road was previously constructed, the wheel paths after the lanes have been shifted are actually on those joints,” GDOT District 7 Assistant Engineer Paul DeNard explained. So cars are often driving on the creases, gradually forcing apart the pavement. “As we grind out those things to make the new pavement, as well as the cars traveling over it, it weakens the integrity of the pavement.”
DeNard explained that the contractor on any road build is normally required to maintain and fill those cracks during projects. In the case of the Transform I-285/GA-400 project, North Perimeter Contractors has that domain. GDOT then repaves the entire area when the project finishes.
I noticed these cracks where the old lane stripes were on I-285. I drove near Perimeter Mall the weekend before the major repairs and the damage had gotten worse very recently. So DeNard said that urgent repair-need played into why the rolling closures happened sooner in the day and not later at night. He also said that the availability of road crews factors into which repairs are done at night or within the normal 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekday window.
Of course, the repeated multi-lane closures on one of Atlanta’s busiest interstate stretches created miles of delays at a time. Those extraneous traffic jams behind the slow-moving patching crews greeted the starts of the PM drives both last Monday and last Tuesday. The beginning of the “Back to Everything” post-holidays week had bad enough traffic without these unplanned interruptions. Reality bit.
Routine road maintenance also changed the topography of the Buford-Spring Connector/Highway 13 in both directions south of Monroe Drive this month. That stretch of pavement looked cracked, scarred, and used-up during and right after the deluge on the first Friday of the decade. By the following Monday, crews had filled those fissures.
“That’s a pavement preservation preventative measure that we do,” District 7 Maintenance Manager Jason Moore said. “Because of the distresses in the roadway, the cracking in the roadway, we did a crack-sealing operation, by putting that emulsion in there to seal those cracks off.”
Moore explained that sealing the cracks isn’t just for vanity or to prevent traffic on them from opening potholes. It is also a seasonal maintenance state teams perform to keep water from seeping into and damaging the pavement even more. This extends the life of the asphalt, Moore said, staving off a full-on paving operation that would cause a much larger inconvenience and cost taxpayers more money in the long run.
As to why Moore’s team decided on January for this: “We tend to do that during the winter months, because the temperature makes the cracks expand to the widest width. That way, we are able to get the material down in there.”
Bemoaning and analyzing construction closures is part of the culture in Atlanta traffic; giving the state and local governments grief is a way to blow steam. And while characteristics of some road projects just seem to make zero sense to some people, plenty of thought and myriad factors influence the closures. The jams on I-285 were major, but if crews ignored the cracks, people would then gripe about terrible road conditions. And if maintenance crews hadn’t been proactive in sealing the Buford-Spring Connector, a bigger, more expensive overhaul would have taken place sooner in the future.
You may be repeating this mantra to yourself during your new 2020 workout: “No pain, no gain.” You’re absolutely right.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 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@cmg.com.