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    Atlanta has seen its fair share of roadway oddities. Having a growing populace and increasing traffic volume only increases the likelihood of everything, including the eccentric and memorable road interruptions. What transpired on I-285 near Ashford Dunwoody Road Tuesday evening was memorable not just for what happened, but for how people reacted in that carnal instant. » RELATED: PHOTOS: Weird things that have snarled Atlanta traffic An armored car lost almost all of its $175,000 haul on I-285/westbound (Outer Loop) near the Perimeter Mall exit, when its side door somehow opened. Talk about a payload. As the greenbacks flew and landed in the right lanes, the emergency lane, and the nearby woods, motorists pulled all cattywampus to the shoulder and even in the lanes and began helping “clean the mess”. Well, not really. Some drivers in the area saw a payday and they must have figured the gains were worth the risk. They stopped in the middle of I-285 without protection and started grabbing whatever flying denominations of bills they could find. The scene had to be surreal to just about anyone who saw it in person. The videos that passersby shot were quite striking, but for multiple reasons. The sheer stupidity and thoughtlessness of stopping in traffic to grab anything is hard to put into words. I-285 is a live field of play. It’s a hot pit road (in racing parlance). Walking in the middle of or, in some cases, on the shoulders of freeways should be given the same treatment as a fan streaking at a game. Doing so not only risks the lives of those outside of their vehicles, but it puts into peril those swerving to avoid them. Unless absolutely necessary, people need to stay in their vehicles on interstates and busy roads. The time of day that this debacle took place makes exiting vehicles even more dangerous. The cash started flying at around 8 p.m., meaning that PM drive was effectively over. While exiting cars is a terrible idea during the slow grind of a high commuting hour, doing this when traffic is back up to speed is even more ridiculous. Reaction windows are far less, impacts are harder, and carnage can be greater. Playing as children at the breaking of the great freeway piñata could have easily resulted in these people ending up more like used piñatas than sugar-buzzed eight-year olds. But the real layer of interest in this post-evening rush hour money grab is people’s snap reactions in this moment of surprise and ecstasy and then the days following. To those who stopped to gather the liberated bounty and maybe even to you hearing the story, the first thought might simply have been, “Free money!” Once that money left the truck, it must have been free, public domain like the lyrics and melody of “Happy Birthday.” Not at all. Fits and the Tantrums’ “Moneygrabber” would be the more appropriate song. The money may have seemed harmless to take because it didn’t come directly from the hands to which it belonged. People picking up the contents of an armored car don’t feel like they are taking money from the actual person whose bank account it belongs to or the businesses or banks from which the money came. They don’t think that the armored car company or the insurance company they use has to somehow recoup that loss. It’s just free money from a faceless entity spewing in the wind, landing harmlessly for some people who obviously need it more. Another thing driving drivers to grab money that doesn’t belong to them may be the seeming veil of anonymity. This same foggy barrier between ourselves and the outside world is what causes us to act far more aggressively behind the wheel than in person. Pulling over on I-285 and quickly grabbing a grand or two of cash seems like a far better endeavor when there is a four-wheeled escape pod close by and no one around you knows who you are. Dunwoody Police might, however. Dunwoody authorities have asked the public nicely to return the cash they found. Since the armored car stopped, the police know who the money belongs to. And they have said that anyone who turns in the money can do so without penalty … for now. But they also said that they have video and photos of tag numbers, ripping down that anonymity veil that the money-hungry thought they had. Although they probably won’t ever be able to tell how much money each driver in the videos got, that threat could hopefully prompt some people to at least return some of the unexpected bounty back to its rightful owners. As of the time of this writing, less than $5,000 had been returned — less than 3%. That unfortunately says a lot about the respect and duty that some people lack. But it also says a lot about their shortsightedness regarding not just property, but safety. Their selfish decisions to stop in traffic put themselves and those around them in danger. And they did this just to essentially loot the misfortune and mistake of the armored car operators. Atlanta, Dunwoody, Perimeter drivers — we can do better than this.  » RELATED: Another $125 returned to police after $175K armored truck spill on I-285 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.
  • July 1st marked the one-year anniversary of the Hands-Free Georgia Act. Lawmakers, led by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), added a layer of rules to a previous 2010 distracted driving measure. Most basically, the tougher law is meant to take the phones out of drivers’ hands and crack down on other, more involved features of mobile phone use behind the wheel. With a year now under the controversial measure’s seat belt, I took to Twitter to take peoples’ temperatures on how they obeyed changes.  » RELATED: Distracted driving crackdown about reinforcement, not revenue I posted a poll on my personal Twitter account, asking people to rate how well they followed the new distracted driving rules in the past year. The extremely unscientific results, 187 votes to be exact, might have shown more about human nature than actual reality.  41% or 76 people said “Yes, I’m very cautious.” Anecdotally, I feel like less than 41% of the drivers I see behave within complete compliance of the revised hands-free law. The flaws of human nature may have both bolstered peoples’ opinions of themselves and slighted my own about other people. We are often not very objective judges of things.  Stats compiled by AJC reporters David Wickert and Kristal Dixon show that the law is starting to achieve the desired results, but also plenty of people are getting punished for it. GSP has written nearly twice as many distracted driving tickets in the first half of 2019 than the second half of 2018. They have given about 25,000 total and had a warning grace period up until October 1st after the law went into effect. Atlanta Police say they have written over 17,000 tickets since last year. Just last month, GSP, Cobb and Marietta police joined forces to nab 170 distracted drivers in just over two-and-a-half hours.  These large numbers of tickets may help prove the notions that drivers have about other drivers, that many people violate the law. But it curbs another anecdotal observation, that the law is not nearly enforced enough. Officers seem to be writing more tickets than we thought. 32%, or 60 people, in my informal Twitter poll said that they follow the new rules most of the time. I actually thought this number would lead the results. 16%, or 30 people, said they only check their phones at red lights, and 11%, or 21 people, said, “Nope. No one stops me.” At least those last ones were honest. While positive results have to plane out at some point, Georgia appears to be gaining benefits from the heftier cellphone laws in the first year. Roadway fatalities are decreasing. Wickert and Dixon’s AJC report also shows that Georgia auto insurance claims have lessened since the implementation of the new law. Other factors could drive these results, such as modern cars being made safer, but the new laws seem to have an effect. Even law-enforcement officers say that they have noticed people being more lax about distracted-driving laws than when the discussion about the Hands-Free Act was more top of mind in 2018. But officers also are getting better at spotting violators, and the revised rules make nabbing spacey motorists easier. Despite my advocacy for the rules, I’ve been open about my slipping into old habits. I sometimes check my phone (while in its dashboard holster) at lights. The biggest change for me is that I never hold it and always use my Bluetooth/FM adapters. That all makes my driving safer than how I drove before. But I need to follow the rules better. Remember that the law sets a low bar and doesn’t outlaw or totally prevent being distracted. Animated conversations with a passenger or eating can distract drivers. Trying to get a hands-free, Bluetooth adapter to work or sending a hands-free text can be distracting in and of themselves. And those are legal. We shouldn’t strive to drive more attentively because the law says so; we should drive alert to preserve our lives and those of our peers. Respondents to my hands-free Twitter poll seemed to rate themselves higher than how most people behave. That could be because my Twitter followers are more likely to be in-tune with traffic laws or are older and more likely to follow the law. Or this positive result could be very simply that we judge ourselves less harshly than we judge others. More than likely, all these things are a bit true. At least the more reliable stats show that Georgia’s roads are now safer. But there is still a long way to go.  » RELATED: Cops pose as utility workers to catch distracted drivers 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.
  • Sit with the hypothetical idealist. A leading thinker from one sphere could leave one walking away convinced that autonomous vehicles are the savior of Atlanta’s traffic woes and will be ubiquitous in five years. Another industry innovator could make the convincing case that mass transit is the key to releasing the gridlock in this town. And yet another could show the stats on the cost savings with electric vehicles. Minds could be blown.  » RELATED: Georgia gov is revved up about self-driving shuttles But the x-factor in traffic innovation, gridlock solvency, pollution-fighting, and commuting efficiency is the prediction of human behavior. And while we have seen society take like ducks to water on certain things, these vehicular behavior progressions are costly. Buying a completely new car costs quite a bit more than a smartphone. Building a mile of heavy rail costs about a billion dollars; building roads is cheaper.  The opportunity cost of switching modes of travel is also a major factor in seeing some of these innovations take flight. Take mass transit: a rider on a MARTA train or bus is at the mercy of the scheduling and routes of that system. People (including this writer, who lives right next to the Chamblee MARTA station) often do not want to sacrifice time and autonomy just to gain the cost and potential time savings of riding the train. Sure, the train frees up time to read or check emails, things that a car driver cannot do. But if that train doesn’t drop the commuter right next to their destination, they have to add in time to walk or ride the bus. That makes mass transit less attractive.  Likewise, MARTA and the new umbrella ATL mass transit agency cannot expand too far beyond demand. In fact, outside of the line that will eventually run from Downtown Atlanta to Emory, MARTA does not have any concrete plans to expand rail. Gwinnett residents voted down MARTA rail expansion in March. A big part of that proposal and other, more firm plans is to have more bus routes, including bus rapid transit. B.R.T. is an express bus system that advocates call a “train on wheels.” That sounds more attractive than regular buses and much more cost effective and attainable than heavy rail, but will people use it? That is far from a guarantee.  Autonomous vehicle technology is mind blowing. The idea of computer-operated cars taking the wheel and driving more safely and efficiently than humans is closer to reality than some realize. Aside from the lack of human judgment aspect, however, there are other big obstacles to driverless cars making a dent in our traffic woes. The more advanced forms of this technology, say, Teslas, are cost prohibitive for many. But even if people started saving their money and buying these fancier cars, the vehicular turnover will not be significant enough anytime soon. For this technology to really make the impact that innovators project, there need to be virtually zero human drivers. Newer cars now are made better and last longer, so therefore people will take longer to upgrade.  But even if every driver needed to buy a new car, the fear of change will also stymie this progression to driverless vehicles. Just the idea of a computer taking the wheel is intimidating. And some people enjoy driving. These factors are glossed over oftentimes when idea people ideate. Human behavior: the x-factor.  Security or certainty is also a speed bump for the proliferation of electric vehicles. EVs, or at least hybrids, have been around for years. But one has to make quite a few concessions to switch over from the combustion engine. Ian Bogost, an Ivan Allen College Distinguished Chair in Media Studies at Georgia Tech, wrote about this predicament recently in The Atlantic. He has been looking to upgrade from his rundown Jeep, but electric vehicles just don’t have the mileage range of a tank of gas. He also noted that a traditional 110V outlet takes about a day to charge the average electric car and that most homes would need a modification to allow the faster-charging 240V circuit. Since our society uses mostly gas-powered cars, gas stations are everywhere. Charging stations are in more and more places, but there are far less of those. A practical person may cringe at the idea of uncertainty or a more limited distance on a trip, even if choosing that EV is more cost-effective and eco-friendly.  Making bold statements about the future of commuting and how behind our society or just Atlanta by itself is easy. When I write about traffic, I often receive social media comments or emails about how lacking MARTA is. But even unlimited funds can’t assuage the unpredictability of human behavior. They also cannot pave over the fear of uncertainty. Undoubtedly, better public transportation, more driverless cars, and an increase in electric vehicles will help our commutes. But pushing these inert ideals out of the friend zone will take time, persistence, and patience.  » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: My ultimate pet peeve behind the wheel 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.
  • Since the enactment of the Hands-Free Georgia Act last July, Georgia has seen roadway fatalities at least slightly decrease from 2017 to 2018. » RELATED: Cops pose as utility workers to catch distracted drivers 1,514 people died in Georgia automobile crashes in 2018, 35 less than in 2017. And the number is trending toward a significant decrease for 2019; that Hands-Free Georgia Act was in effect only for the second half of 2018. Constant media coverage (including five straight weeks of Gridlock Guy columns) and messaging from state and local governments helped positively influence driver behavior last summer. As the law went into effect, many seemed to genuinely at least try to behave legally behind the wheel. Texting and driving already was illegal, but the new mandate for drivers to stop holding phones or even touching their mobile devices in most cases makes enforcing the original texting law much easier. Without the threat of enforcement, any distracted driving law is toothless. Georgia drivers seemed to make a decent effort at following the new legal directives in 2018. With the issue very much top of mind, motorists seemed to, at the very least, less ostensibly text and drive. Some officers even told me different ways that drivers would conceal their distracted driving: the low hold, the quick head bob, the hands-up phone drop. And anecdotally, I saw significantly fewer people holding their devices and driving. But old habits reared their ugly heads as the weeks and months passed. From the WSB Skycopter, we noticed more cars weaving or staying stopped in rush-hour traffic when the lane started moving. From behind the wheel, I saw more and more people holding their phones openly at stop lights. And once those vehicles were in motion, many continued their illegal digital interactions, putting themselves and others at far greater risks. I’m not making these observations from a glass tower, though the WSB Skycopter isn’t a bad comparison. I’ve noticed some of the same behavior in myself. This topic was hot for a few weeks and I went out of my way to buy Bluetooth adapters for my vehicles and mounted phone holsters. I still use those things. But when that phone pings with a text and the voice technology is being finicky, I must admit that leaving messages unread and unanswered is tough. Enforcement of the law is difficult, as citizens very simply far outnumber officers. But Marietta PD, Cobb PD, and the Georgia State Patrol took steps recently to nab violators and send a message to the public about distracted driving. “People assume that if they are not getting pulled over for this law that it’s still OK to slip back into that habit of using their phone while they are driving,” Marietta PD spokesperson Chuck McPhilamy said. “We’re asking the public to realize that the law is in effect for a reason. It’s there to protect you from an accident as well as save lives.” Three Marietta officers dressed as construction workers at the intersection of Cobb Parkway and Roswell Road last week. They eyed vehicles for violations of both the hands-free laws and seatbelt requirements and then radioed their observations to nearby officers. Those officers then pulled over the offending vehicles. GSP wrote 29 tickets, while Cobb and Marietta police officers issued 141. These are astonishing amounts, considering the operation lasted just from 9:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Wednesday. Public reaction seemed overall to be positive. Certainly the people getting tickets didn’t feel as great. Some people commented on social media about this being over-enforcement or being a ploy for revenue. These were minority dissenting opinions. The fine for the first offense is only $50, so last week’s haul wasn’t exactly a mighty bounty for the city, county, or the state. The fines in the law were made low for that reason: to curb the concerns about revenue ploys. Police cannot run these mini stings all the time, but this case in Cobb County serves as a good reminder of what the law is and what violating it can mean. Don’t hold your phones behind the wheel for any reason. Only touch them to make calls or adjust GPS programs. Only read and answer texts with voice commands or through in-dash systems. Do not use social media or make or watch videos. And know that while most people will not get caught, police aren’t letting Hands-Free Georgia Act violations slide. Lives are on the line.  » RELATED: Study: Georgia cellphone law reduced distracted driving 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.
  • Knowing what triggers a reader’s response to a column is a nebulous thing. Some topics certainly seem like they will galvanize emails and social media comments, but they don’t. And then others unexpectedly prompt people to respond. Last week’s rampage on drivers that stop in thru lanes to change lanes at the last second certainly sparked some nerves. Many agreed with my ire at inconsiderate lane maneuvers, but also added enough of their own pet peeves to fill an entire other column. Here it is. » RELATED: Atlanta's traffic mess: Readers offer 'magic wand' solutions Michael M. emailed in and wondered if people stopping in lanes to prevent missing a turn is a result of inadequate driver’s education in Georgia. He compared driving here to his experience in New England. That certainly could be a factor, but I really believe a reliance on GPS makes people less invested in their commutes. Thus, they aren’t aware of their surroundings as much and make last-minute decisions, as Ken B. wrote in saying. And people have become more selfish, as the bar of consideration has lowered in general. Jennifer C. vented about several issues, including behavior at a four-way stop: when two people stop at the same time, the person on the right has the right of way. She also is upset about behavior in roundabouts. “These are designed to keep traffic moving so why are you stopping at the yield sign when no cars are coming?” she said via email. Jennifer added that people do not need to signal entering a traffic circle (since they all move counterclockwise), but “your decision to leave the circle does require a signal, as it indicates to other drivers what you are going to do.” Donald T. pointed out how red-light behavior affects not just traffic flow, but road capacity. He has been upset about how people do not tighten up to the cars in front of them when stopped at signals. “Don’t people realize (or care) that this procedure has the same effect as doubling or tripling the number of cars on the road when you consider the amount of usable road space this process takes up?” Good points. Fred S. not only bemoaned people who refuse to miss a turn and then stop traffic, but also when — or if — they ever even use turn signals. “I figure only about 10% of drivers know that (turn signals) are to indicate a driver’s intention. Slowing down, entering a turn lane, and then put on the turn signals makes no sense and is aggravating. Some even come to a stop and then turn them on,” he emailed. Theresa B. highlighted an opposite problem. “Notice the actions of drivers when attempting to change lanes while using the indicator to do so. It is so predictable that they will instantly accelerate to prevent you from getting in front of them. This causes accidents.” Courtesy goes both ways, yes. Patsy B.’s frustration extends past her windshield, as pedestrian traffic impacts her ride in Buckhead. “So many people just don’t know or refuse to adhere to the laws at crosswalks. And many times I see people crossing Peachtree in front of the MARTA station in Buckhead, where there is no light or crosswalk, while traffic is moving. I don’t believe they have the right of way in that case,” she said. As drivers, we should always treat pedestrians with the right of way, whether they are “right” or not, because if we hit them the consequences are worse for them. Human life is precious, even if it can be inconsiderate and stupid. John W. highlights the dangers of my personal traffic pet peeve playing out on interstates, such as he saw for many years when people would stop in a thru lane on GA-400 to try to get over to their exit lane to I-285. “This tactic clogged the lane next to the exit lane, forcing other drivers to shift to their left to avoid being struck — dangerous.” He noted how the new interchanges and C.D. lanes in the area won’t stop the behavior; it will just shift the tactic backwards. True. Those maneuvers by others constantly stop traffic and actually caused someone to rear-end me in that spot on GA-400/southbound years ago. Finally, Charles W. wondered about enforcement. “Am I the only one who never sees the police or state patrol on the interstates? They always show up for accidents, but I wonder how many accidents would be prevented if there was regular enforcement of speed and traffic laws on the expressways?” While this is a fair point, a better question may be how can the government better fund law enforcement to deploy them more readily? The truth is, they can do a better job both enforcing the law and spending tax money more tactfully. But even with twice the budget, there will always be a lot of traffic and plenty of violators. And traffic stops (flashing lights) can also cause more traffic. We may not have accomplished much in airing these grievances, but at least we drew awareness to a few more flies in the traffic ointment. Still, unselfishness, defensive driving, and patience can help solve most of these violations and annoyances.  » RELATED: Photos: Weird things that have snarled Atlanta traffic 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.
  • Commuting patterns have changed in this bustling metropolis and so have individual driving habits. The rush hour flows have evolved with the changes in population and the spreading out of commerce centers. Job hubs exist in many areas across Metro Atlanta, so drive time demand doesn’t point just mainly to Downtown Atlanta. But while traditional rush hour commutes have evolved, driving practices have devolved. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Treating the right of way the right way I want to hone in on a particular behind-the-wheel-maneuver that I anecdotally have determined may be one of the biggest negative changes I have seen in drivers. I absolutely cannot stand when people stop short in a lane and wait until a gap in the next lane to get over, so they can make a turn. This chaps my [bumper] and conjures up a disgust in me that I should probably reserve for reports about genocide and molestation. Pulling such a move, first off, is dangerous. When a motorist suddenly realizes they need to turn and then they abruptly slow or stop, that can cause an accordion effect behind them. When they do this in the left lane, the pause is even more abrupt because the trailing drivers aren’t really expecting that dead stop to happen in a passing lane. The danger becomes more so when the inconvenienced drivers then scurry out of the left lane and into the next one. Those maneuvers can be out of frustration, so aggression levels rise and crashes become more likely. All of this starts with one driver deciding that they had to turn right then, rules and courtesy be damned. Stopping in the wrong lane to make a turn is also highly inconsiderate. Those that do so appear to be cruising around in opaque bubbles, with zero cares about who or what is going on around them. While missing a turn is a bummer, rectifying that small foible is not worth the delays and danger created. Stopping a through lane of traffic and slowing others’ progress to help better one’s own is a basic building block of selfishness. As I’ve stated many times before in this column, our traffic ecosystem works best when we drive around others as we want others to drive around us. Driving with an all out “me” approach goes at direct odds with easing the city’s gridlock. We have to cut each other breaks, drive defensively, and drive alert to avoid causing extra crashes and delays. Stopping in a passing lane to turn completely contradicts this philosophy. Other behaviors of ours have laid the groundwork for inconsiderate driving. Walking slowly down, say, a sidewalk or a store aisle and texting slows the progress of others. Not being ready in a fast food line because of being on the phone is another selfish move. The proliferation of phone use goes hand-in-hand with “bubble behavior.” I am guilty of it. In the very moment of replying to a text or Facebook comment, doing those things seems more important than being considerate. The reason social media and smartphones are so successful is at least partly because of the dopamine that digital social interaction produces. Prioritizing phone use above driving attentiveness is why the state enacted the new Hands-Free Georgia Act last July. On a more macro level, we need to shake off the idea that what we want is always most important. The byproduct of that self-centeredness can be more than annoying and angering; it can be deadly. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Getting around roundabouts shouldn't throw you for a loop 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.
  • The WSB Traffic Team and Georgia Department of Transportation officials hosted a traffic special late last month on News 95.5/AM750 WSB. Smilin’ Mark McKay, Ashley Frasca, Mark Arum, and I asked GDOT about the status of the Transform I-285/GA-400 project and what it will achieve and the timeline for its completion, a discussion we covered in this column last week. The other big piece of that roundtable was the future advent of new toll lanes on large sections of both I-285 and GA-400. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: GDOT experts explain the changes on I-285 and GA-400 These new Express Lanes, which will run on GA-400 between I-285 and McFarland Parkway and on I-285 anywhere north of I-20, are four pieces in the 11-project Major Mobility Investment Program (MMIP). Former Georgia Governor Nathan Deal approved the plan, which aims to reduce overall congestion on Georgia roads by 5% by 2030. GDOT aims to do this by adding hundreds of lane miles to the state’s freeway system, many of which will come in the form of toll lanes in Metro Atlanta. This plan came to fruition before the tolled, reversible I-75 and I-575 Express Lanes in Cobb, Cherokee, and Henry counties opened in the last couple of years. But their successes further justify the endeavor. “Folks are traveling in that Express Lane system at very high speeds, compared to the general purpose lanes,” GDOT MMIP Program Manager Tim Matthews said of the lanes northwest of town. He noted on our Triple Team Traffic Special that the reversible toll lanes on I-75 and I-575 average more than 55 miles per hour. “We’re hearing via our social media pages that people are saving 15 to 30 minutes on their commute times from end to end.” We have observed the big improvements between I-285, Acworth, and Holly Springs from both the WSB Skycopter and our 24-Hour Traffic Center. The rush hour has decreased by more than an hour from start to finish in both the mornings and afternoons, on average, GDOT said. Matthews explained the added capacity to both freeways hasn’t just helped those who pay: “Also, trip times in the general purpose lanes are more reliable, too. We are getting higher travel speeds in the general purpose lanes as well.” Engineers and officials had to explore what was right to to achieve the same impact on both I-285 and GA-400. “Every section of our interstate has different challenges,” GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale said on the traffic show. “I-285 is really its own beast, when you look at the numbers.” Dale said more than a quarter of a million people use the north side of I-285 daily. “We’re looking 20 years down the road. To make that long-term impact, you’re going to need two on each side. A reversible system will only make a dent.” Their goal is to decrease congestion not just in the general purpose lanes and the toll lanes, but on the crowded side roads, as well. “We’re going to have two lanes, barrier-separated in each direction, from I-75 in Cobb County all the way to I-85 in DeKalb County,” Matthews said of the I-285 lanes. This then would eventually continue all the way down the east and west sides of I-285 to I-20. “We’re going to try to build a system that, again, is aerial — similar to what you see on the Northwest Corridor project.” Adding more than a hundred miles of lanes to I-285 is a huge undertaking, as is the complete, much-needed redesigns of both I-285/I-20 interchanges. These six projects — four for toll lanes and two for the I-20 interchanges — cannot happen simultaneously. Matthews said not only do GDOT and the state not have $11 billion in the bank to fund everything at once, but that simply would take too much manpower. All 11 MMIP projects are set to be either underway or finished by 2026. As for the timeline on the I-285 and GA-400 toll lanes? “The 400 project is scheduled for 2021 through 2024. And the northside Express Lane project is from 2023 to 2028 for construction,” Matthews said. So the new, free collector-distributor lanes and ramps of the Transform I-285/GA-400 project will open several years before any toll lanes do. I-285 turns 50-years-old this year and was only two lanes in each direction then. GDOT is essentially building “1969 I-285” around the current Perimeter north of I-20. GA-400 will also see added toll lanes and hopefully a decrease in the growing trip times. Both of these projects could cross people’s properties, but only if doing so is unavoidable. Nonetheless, seeing some relief on busy and growing I-285 and GA-400 should be a welcome reality for the whole area.  » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Residential cost of GA-400 expansion illustration of bigger conundrum 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.
  • There are many “bad traffic days” on Atlanta’s roads, but an 18-hour stretch from Thursday, May 16th, and into Friday, the 17th, was absurd. In particular, the subsequent closures of I-75/northbound between McDonough and Stockbridge on Thursday almost entirely proved Murphy’s Law. This was a period for the ages, and the horror also broke out elsewhere. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: When traffic is stopped and you need to go The gridlock started at approximately 10 a.m. Thursday, when a tractor trailer overturned on I-75/northbound at I-675 (Exit 227) in Henry County. The big rig stretched perpendicularly across the lanes and completely shut down I-75/nb. “(Thursday) was one of the most unusual middays I’ve ever worked,” WSB Triple Team Traffic’s Alex Williams said, still a bit aghast after processing the day. “We had a total of roughly four traffic RED ALERTS.” As we have covered here before, the WSB Traffic Team defines a RED ALERT as an interstate’s or major highway’s entire closure for an extended duration. For four such closures to happen near or at the same time is not a common thing. The first I-75/nb closure was bad enough, but just as it started clearing, a far bigger RED ALERT unfolded around noon. “I-75/nb south of Highway 20/81 in McDonough, which is south of the first RED ALERT, was shut down with a deadly crash & big rig fire,” Williams explained. The WSB Jam Cam showed a tractor trailer sliced open and engulfed in flames, obviously necessitating all of I-75/nb’s closure. The breadth of the wreckage made clear very early that this closure would last for hours. Then we learned that two big rigs actually collided and smashed a car between them, killing two. That meant an investigation extended the closure even later. There was correlation between the two wrecks, as the extreme backups from the first wreck created the traffic changes that galvanized the other. The Atlanta roads mirror NASCAR: cautions breed cautions. The I-75/nb shutdown in McDonough drilled traffic back into Butts County, before Highway 36 (Exit 201). Police diverted traffic off on the exits south of the crash and the side roads, especially Highway 42/23, became jammed. The extreme northbound commotion jammed I-75/southbound with onlooker delays all the way back to I-675. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: How we decide where the WSB Skycopter flies The South Metro Express/Peach Pass Lanes stayed pointed in the northbound direction all the way through Friday morning. Crews near the crash before Hwy. 20/81 forced some traffic into those toll lanes, which worked effectively like an open freeway lane. Both the rubbernecking and the lack of relief the reversible lanes usually bring made for an evening commute that was an hour worse than normal on I-75/sb. And this was in the direction opposite of the closure. “What an unbelievable day for Henry County commuters,” WSB’s Veronica Harrell stated, after working those wrecks from the WSB 24-Hour Traffic Center. “I-75 northbound was shut down from 10:30 a.m. until well into the evening rush. I felt so sorry for everyone involved.” From the WSB Skycopter, I watched I-75/nb finally re-open just before our 6 p.m. Non-Stop News Feed. The cleanup of the two mangled and charred trailers on the right shoulder didn’t completely clear until around 10 p.m., WSB’s Steve Winslow observed. When monitoring major problems, like those on I-75 on the south side, losing sight of other problems is easy. Thankfully, Williams and Harrell did not. “I-285/northbound shut down at LaVista Road, so we had three RED ALERTS at once,” Williams recalled. “Luckily I-285 opened shortly after. Then, less than an hour later, I-20/eastbound shut down at I-285 in Fulton County.” But Williams and Harrell, and then WSB’s Smilin’ Mark McKay and Mike Shields, kept scouring the WSB Jam Cams and updating our Triple Team Traffic Alerts App with new problems. As soon as I-75/nb finally opened in Henry County, a vehicle flipped over on GA-400/northbound south of the Glenridge Connector. We arrived in the WSB Skycopter, just as a HERO unit spent about five minutes towing it to the right; traffic was awful back before Lenox. And to top off the rush hour, a devastating wreck shut down I-285/southbound at Atlanta Road (Exit 15) around 7 p.m. Thursday, keeping Shields busy through the evening. The wee morning hours of Friday saw Atlanta Police shut down I-85/northbound at Cleveland Avenue and I-75/85/sb at Highway 166, for crash reconstruction scenes. Those opened quickly. Then the south side got hit again with a three-hour RED ALERT at about 5:30 a.m. on I-675/northbound at Highway 42. The last hour of that closure saw half of I-75/northbound in Morrow, the main I-675/nb alternate, get blocked with its own wreck. McKay watched I-675/northbound open from the Skycopter after 8 a.m. We spell this all out to say that bad traffic happens with very little rhyme or reason. Drive alert and always prepare before your commute by checking our app, wsbradio.com, and keeping in tune with our live reports on News 95.5/AM750 WSB and Channel 2 Action News. If you don’t, you may find yourself saying, “Ohhh-ah,” as Harrell often does when the, uh, traffic hits the fan.  » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: WSB Triple Team Traffic App helps navigate commute 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.
  • The Atlanta road system is in construction parallax; it has to be. Our population continues to grow and the externalities of this expansion manifest themselves in the way of trucks, cones, barrels, bulldozers, barriers, and paint. The most ostensible and cumbersome of these projects is the immense Transform 285/400 project in Sandy Springs. That interchange redesign came on the heels of the massive I-75/I-575 Northwest Metro Express Lanes construction in Cobb and Cherokee counties, which concluded last September. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Treating the right of way the right way Even small road adjustments and improvements can cause closures, but more subtle construction changes can cause intense delays without actually blocking lanes. One such side effect of big-time road work is a lane shift or lane restriping. An avid WSB listener who wishes to be called “Traffic Trooper Squirrel” (they love squirrels, in case you’re wondering) asked me a great question, as they approached one of these work zones on I-75 in Butts County: What is a lane shift? Squirrel is from another country and isn’t familiar with certain American vernacular. That question put the presence of these slants in travel lanes front and top of mind for me. When construction crews have to build bridges or build out lanes next to roads, they often have to take some capacity from the regular through lanes. Instead of blocking an entire lane for weeks and months, they restripe the lanes. Usually, crews will paint the lanes with a slant to the left or right, and sometimes they make the lanes skinnier, to allow for this construction. This causes problems. Any time the environment changes, traffic cringes. When just a bit of rain falls, people make wrecking look easy and traffic automatically moves more slowly. So certainly when travel lanes suddenly juke left or right and constrict, the travel flow slows. And this ripple in the “trip time continuum” causes more wrecks as well, which then cause even more delays. Take the pain that Cobb commuters felt on I-75 for the several years leading up to the completion of those new toll lanes. The lane shifts between I-285 and Marietta slowed traffic at very unpredictable times of day. And this happened simply because a few more variables (lane shifts and restriping) joined the commuting equation on that stretch. In recent weeks, the I-285/westbound ramp to Peachtree Dunwoody Road and exit lanes to GA-400 have been restriped. Crews there did eliminate a net lane of capacity, taking the left exit lane to Peachtree Dunwoody and making it an exit lane to GA-400. That has made the exit to “Pill Hill” a nightmare, which backs up the right lanes of I-285 even worse during both rush hours. Add in the lane shift on I-285 in that same area and lane shifts on GA-400 in that spot and “slower than normal” has become the new normal. The new Peach Pass lanes on I-75 and I-575 have brought plenty of relief to the northwestern suburbs. I-75 used to be awful, but has instead moderated greatly with the addition of the two reversible lanes during each rush hour. However, a new lane shift just last week on I-75/northbound north of Chastain Road, combined with construction equipment sitting off to the right, has done to Marietta-Kennesaw traffic what a pugilist did to Jared Leto’s beautiful face in “Fight Club.” The lane shift and restriping on I-75/northbound in Kennesaw has turned what had decreased to a sub-20 minute ride from I-285 to Chastain into a 30-minute-plus trek. No lanes are blocked; conditions simply changed. There are many more examples of what restriping, lane shifts, and lane constriction can do to traffic. But there aren’t really many great solutions on how to minimize their impact. As motorists, we need to drive with more awareness and with more authority. We can still be cautious and decisive; those are not mutually exclusive traits. And let this serve as a reminder to always drive at our best in work zones, because mistakes in these areas are more costly. Construction areas often leave less room for drivers to correct themselves or pull to a shoulder, and crashes and inattentiveness have higher chances here to cost lives. Construction is with us for years to come — please be careful.  » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Getting around roundabouts shouldn’t throw you for a loop 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.
  • The last Saturday in April, regardless of the weather, is a beautiful day in Atlanta. April 27th saw the 28th running of the Georgia Police Memorial Ride: a congregation of hundreds of motorcycles, police cars, and other vehicles that travel in formation to salute Georgia officers that have fallen in the line of duty. Blue Knights Georgia chapter VII, a fraternal, non-profit motorcycle club of current and retired law enforcement, hosts this massive event each year. The late Captain Herb Emory was heavily involved in the memorial ride for more than 20 years. “Every year when this ride comes up, I stop to hear the Blue Knights’ and other’s stories about Captain Herb’s perpetual involvement in this big event!” WSB Triple Team Traffic’s Ashley Frasca exclaimed. “I believe he became involved by the second or third annual ride, and was there every year since.” In the spirit of Captain Herb, Frasca volunteers with C.O.P.S. (Concerns of Police Survivors) and helps host and put together C.O.P.S. events the night before the Memorial Ride and for other times during the year. Her relationship with Captain Herb and his widow, Karen, sparked her interest in this cause. “A cool thing for me each year is seeing his memorial flag flown on a bike in the ride,” she explained. “Our great friend Karen usually brings the Mayberry Patrol Car out, too.” » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Community service years after losing Captain Herb Emory Captain Herb was an honorary Douglas Co. Sheriff's officer and, as we talked about a few weeks ago, died of a heart attack after rescuing crash victims and then directing traffic in front of his house. He also was simply a huge police geek. Captain Herb went to police roadblocks in the middle of the night. He also loved police memorabilia, scanners, and “The Andy Griffith Show.” When Karen surprised Herb with that restored Ford Galaxie years ago, Herb was in rare form: speechless. “Aunt Bea,” as the license plate says, is always a favorite at auto shows and at this annual ride. Frasca said that over 1,000 motorcycle riders showed up from all over Georgia and even Kentucky and the Carolinas. The procession, that started on Jonesboro Rd. in southeast Atlanta at about 11 a.m. was some kind of spectacle. The current and vintage police cars, hundreds of bikes, and two MARTA buses carrying the surviving families roared and paced like a majestic lion that demanded attention and respect. It also created a huge traffic interruption. “I think the word got out in a big way about closing the Downtown Connector around lunch time on a Saturday,” Frasca said. Frasca and I, along with others on the Traffic Team, warned people on News 95.5/AM750 WSB of the impending closure Friday. And the ensuing gridlock warnings and traffic jams themselves were front and center in Jill Nelson’s and Floyd Hillman’s reports Saturday morning. I actually helped Hillman send out some tweets and Triple Team Traffic Alerts App push alerts from the backseat of the Mayberry Patrol Car during the ride. But the warning effort didn’t stop there. “I also want to commend GDOT for working with the Blue Knights for this ride. They helped spread the word using the overhead matrix boards in the city,” Frasca said. HERO drivers and law enforcement sealed off entrance ramps and intersections to allow the mile-long parade to pass. And as Frasca on the back of an officer’s bike and myself, Karen Emory, Triple Team Traffic’s Mike Shields, and Douglas Co. S.O. First Lt. John Jewell in the Mayberry car saw, people respectfully took notice and paused to remember the fallen officers. The Georgia Police Memorial Ride gallops each year up I-285/westbound, to I-75/northbound, to I-75/85/northbound. Then it exits on the Piedmont Avenue HOV ramp and into Midtown, turns left on 14th Street, and left on Spring Street. After passing Centennial Park and the Five Points Station and Underground Atlanta, the long mass of metal and flags re-enters I-75/85/sb just below I-20 and goes back. Traffic stayed jammed on I-75/85 in both directions for over an hour - well after the lanes opened. And people certainly are upset each time. The traffic RED ALERT - as we call it on WSB - stopped Downtown Atlanta traffic for longer than President Trump’s motorcade did earlier that week. And while that is a major inconvenience, it provides a mandatory pause to think about the gravity of it all. Just as we got to stop and remember Captain Herb and other fallen heroes in the patrol car, those stuck in traffic got to see how many people care about and/or were affected by the loss of an officer. Headlines sometimes become just that; they can lose their meaning. The Georgia Police Memorial Ride is a list of dozens of headlines, suddenly gleaming to life, and passing by with guttural realness.  » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: What our Traffic Troopers mean to us 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.

News

  • It's been a major distraction for drivers on Florida’s Turnpike in Osceola County. They don't know if she has a home, but a dog, whom some are now calling Ozzy, certainly has a lot of people watching out for her. >> Read more trending news  Dispatchers at the turnpike’s Traffic Management Center have spent months doing everything they can to catch the dog before she or a driver gets hurt. On Friday, Florida Turnpike officials said she was captured. She is very calm and quiet. There's a whole team of people watching hundreds of cameras along the turnpike and keeping an eye out for anything that may be dangerous for drivers. But consistently since May, in one particular part of the road, they kept seeing the same dog over and over. Road Ranger Jonathon Hester patrols a stretch of the turnpike near the Yeehaw Junction. “Our No. 1 job is safety,' Hester said. He's usually routing drivers around wrecks or helping with a flat tire. But lately, he's been determined to find the furry fugitive. 'This one has just evaded us for a long time and we keep trying to find him,” Hester said. For about two months, dispatchers were seeing the yellow Labrador between mile markers 196 and 205 on the turnpike, headed southbound. 'And just kind of runs up and down the roadway. It's a big distraction for the motorists driving by,” Hester said. “People see it and slam on their brakes.' Officials said they have no idea where she came from. 'It's possible it could've come from a vehicle crash,” Hester said. “A motorist could've been traveling with this dog, and crashed and the dog got scared and ran away.' Because she's been living on the road in Osceola County, they have affectionately named her Ozzy. Osceola County Animal Control let Hester borrow a trap in an effort to catch Ozzy. Now that the dog is caught, they plan to scan Ozzy for a chip to see if she has a home. If not, Ozzy may be up for adoption.
  • The Jacksonville Game Center has been burglarized twice in less than a month with thieves making off with nearly $10,000 worth of Magic the Gathering cards.  >> Read more trending news  Store owners told Action News Jax that both times, the thieves busted through a wall to get in. Hector Ortiz is a regular at the game center. Action News Jax caught up with him as customers and staff were preparing for their Friday night Magic the Gathering tournament. “The place is pretty packed, we have anywhere from 20-plus players,” Ortiz said. “It’s like a second home. A lot of people come to get away from issues.” So, when these crimes occur, Ortiz said the customers take it as a personal attack. “The first time it happened was really heartbreaking,” Ortiz said. Action News Jax first reported three weeks ago when thieves busted a hole in the wall to take more than $5,000 rare Magic the Gathering cards. The owner said they came back again overnight Friday. Surveillance video showed the glow of their flashlights. The owner said this time, they left another hole in the wall and stole more than $3,000 in those same, valuable cards.  He said they busted through the wall at the restaurant next door. Friday, Hunan Wok had a board up in the window where the thieves broke their glass to get in.Ortiz had a message for the thieves. “Just grow up,” Ortiz said. “It’s not necessary. You’re attacking us for a quick buck. Just go out there and get a job, man.
  • A woman is in jail facing felony charges after Clayton County authorities said she allegedly sneaked a firecracker into a courtroom and threatened to blow up the place.  >> Read more trending news  Whitney Jefferies, 32, was arrested Monday night after a judge saw the threat the woman allegedly posted on social media, Channel 2 Action News reported.  Judge Michael Garrett said Jefferies was in the front row in his courtroom. He told Channel 2 she seemed agitated that it was taking so long for her case to be called.  Later, he saw a video she posted on her social media page in which she held up a firecracker and said she was going to blow the courtroom apart, the news station reported.  It is not clear how Jefferies got the firecracker into the courtroom, and Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill has not commented on the situation. Deputies went to Jefferies’ condo in Morrow to arrest her, Channel 2 reported. Nobody answered when agents first knocked on her door, according to the news station.However, deputies realized someone was inside the home when a pizza was delivered to the house later that evening, Channel 2 reported.  Deputies went back to Jefferies’ door and brought her out in handcuffs, the news station reported.  Jefferies was booked into the Clayton jail, where she remains held on a $35,000 bond. She face three charges, including making terroristic threats and possession of a destructive device.
  • A Charlotte, North Carolina woman and her Australian boyfriend were murdered while they were traveling the world, officials said. >> Read more trending news  Chynna Deese, 24, and her boyfriend, Lucas Fowler, 23, were found shot and killed on a remote western Canadian highway Monday near their broken down van, WSOC-TV reported. Officials said they were exploring Canadian national parks and heading to Alaska. Police said this does not appear connected to any other crimes. Friday night, WSOC-TV interviewed Chynna's mother Sheila Deese, who said despite not knowing how her daughter died, she's comforted in knowing her daughter and Fowler were together until the end. 'It is a love story, a southern girl goes out of the country, meets this Australian and they were just the same personality,' Sheila Deese said. Canadian Police said they don't know if Deese and Fowler were targeted or if this was random. They said they are working with the FBI to find the couple's killer. 
  • A 77-year-old convicted murderer who was released from prison after being deemed 'too old' to kill again was convicted this week of fatally stabbing a Maine woman. >> Read more trending news  Albert Flick was found guilty Wednesday of killing 48-year-old Kimberly Dobbie in July 2018 outside a Lewiston laundromat. The attack happened in front of Dobbie's 11-year-old twin boys. 'I'm glad the verdict is done and over and I'm glad he'll never be able to walk the streets again,' said Dobbie's friend James Lipps, NBC News reported. This is Flick's second murder conviction. Flick was convicted in the 1979 death of his wife, Sandra. Similar to Dobbie's death, Flick stabbed his wife as her daughter watched, CNN reported. Flick was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 1979 murder. He was released and was released in 2000 after 21 years for good behavior, The Washington Post reported.  By 2010, when he was in his late 60s, Flick had been convicted of assaulting two other women. Despite his record, the judge in the 2010 case sentenced him to four years. “At some point Mr. Flick is going to age out of his capacity to engage in this conduct,” Maine Superior Court Justice Robert E. Crowley said, according to the Portland Press Herald. “And incarcerating him beyond the time that he ages out doesn’t seem to me to make good sense.” Judge Crowley retired in 2010. He hasn't responded to media requests for comment. Flick is scheduled for sentencing August 9. He faces 25 years to life behind bars. “I firmly believe this could have been prevented,” Elsie Clement, whose mother was stabbed to death by Flick in 1979, told the Press Herald last year of Dobbie's death. “There is no reason this man should have been on the streets in the first place, no reason.”
  • Public school students in New Hampshire will be provided with free menstrual products thanks to the passage of a new law. SB 142, signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Chris Sununu, will require public schools to provide feminine hygiene products in women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms in high schools and middle schools starting January 1, The Concord Monitor reported.  >> Read more trending news  “This legislation is about equality and dignity,” Sununu said. “SB 142 will help ensure young women in New Hampshire public schools will have the freedom to learn without disruption – and free of shame, or fear of stigma.” The idea for the law came from 17-year-old Caroline Dillon, a high school student in Rochester, N.H. The high schooler was inspired to act after learning in U.S. History class about 'period poverty,' where those who can't afford feminine hygiene products miss work or school during menstruation. “It was sad to think about,” Dillon told The Monitor. “Girls in middle and high school would never dream of telling somebody that they have to miss school or use socks because they can’t pay for pads.” Dillon approached state Sen. Martha Hennessey with her idea, and Hennesey became a main sponsor of the bill. Educating some lawmakers was initially awkward, Dillon said. Most lawmakers are men, and wanted to avoid words like 'menstruation,' 'tampon' and 'feminine hygiene products,' The Monitor reported. “They would say ‘the thing’ or just try to avoid saying it all together,” Dillon said. “I would say to them, ‘If this makes you uncomfortable, think about how uncomfortable it is to be in this situation yourself. If you can't really picture it yourself, think about any woman in your life: your mom, your daughter, your aunt – think about how uncomfortable she feels – you are in the position to make it so these women don’t have to feel that way.’ ”  Dillon's efforts were ultimately successful. Funding for the new measure will come from school districts' budgets, according to CNN. Districts can partner with nonprofit organizations to provide the feminine hygiene products. Opponents of the bill said its amounts to an unconstitutional unfunded mandate,  USA Today reported. Similar laws currently exist in New York, Illinois and California.