Gridlock Guy: On MARTA masks, a delayed interchange, and drive time traffic pacing

The daily AJC political rundown “The Jolt” is a great collection of synopses on Georgia politics stories that is mandatory reading for me most mornings. Each subject may not warrant a full column, but the cadre of them makes for a rich read.

With that format in mind, call this week’s “Gridlock Guy” column “The Bolt.” Alright, that needs some work.

Masking on MARTA

Reader David R. from Atlanta emailed me about his riding the Atlanta rails during the pandemic and not seeing enough commuters wearing masks or enough agents enforcing the federal mandate for MARTA.

After reading about some MARTA delays due to both COVID staffing shortages and passengers with medical issues, David also pointed out to me that he feels agents at the College Park station do not address maskless passengers.

I relayed David’s observations to MARTA spokesperson Stephany Fisher.

“The role of bus and rail operators and station agents regarding mask-compliance is one of education, rather than enforcement,” Fisher explained. “Enforcement of the mask policy, instated by the FTA [Federal Transit Administration], falls to the MARTA Police Department. While the force is sizable, it is not large enough to allow for officers on every train and bus, but there are officers systemwide enforcing the mask mandate. Bus and rail operators and station agents may request MPD support at any time if they feel unsafe after asking a customer to put on a mask.”

Fisher then shared mask-enforcement data from December and January (before the 25th) for MARTA’s four precincts: there were 1,352 requests for passengers to become mask-compliant. 32 were ejected. Five riders were suspended.

Fisher also noted that less people are wearing masks likely because of COVID-fatigue, but that the agency is committed to trying to keep people masked.

MARTA does face the same challenges as airlines or stores in enforcing mask rules, but the numbers show they are not ignoring their own rules.

Harbins interchange hangup

Gwinnett DOT had stated that the new Highway 316 ramps to and from Harbins Road and the new Harbins Road bridge over Highway 316 in Dacula would open on Tuesday night, January 18th. We flew over it in the WSB Skycopter that afternoon and it did not look ready to open, but we were optimistic it might.

Sure enough, the interchange did not open that Tuesday night…or for the next nine days. However, Smilin’ Mark McKay in the Skycopter saw a breakthrough on Thursday morning, January 27th. The new bridge and ramps opened.

I reached out to Gwinnett DOT about the delay and they noted that the winter weather in the days before the scheduled opening.

Weather is not controllable, but timing an opening can be. Since the Gwinnett DOT crew elected to open the interchange during morning drive, they paced traffic during rush hour, creating bigger delays than those maneuvers normally would.

Since there was extra time to get that interchange opened, waiting until overnight or evening hours for that pacing would have been more prudent. Speaking of…

Striping slow downs in Brookhaven

GDOT crews have been working in recent times to rehab the I-85 bridge near Cheshire Bridge Road (Exit 88), a process which usually closes some lanes in both directions of I-85 on most weekends.

As crews replaced bridge decks, the new khaki-colored pavement saw lane stripes that looked like grade school playground chalk lines. Seeing them on a sunny day was mildly difficult and darn near impossible on a rainy night.

I reached out to GDOT about the situation and while they were checking, proper striping began.

Starting on January 22nd, crews paced I-85/northbound and southbound traffic between Clairmont Road (Exit 91) and GA-400 (Exit 87) multiple times that Saturday and Sunday to stripe the lanes. They did the same off and on through the midday hours on Tuesday, January 25th, too. But that process continued into the 3 p.m. hour that day, even causing entire closures of traffic for over 10 minutes a time.

Delays lasted longer than just those 10 minutes, as PM drive began.

The WSB Traffic Team and I heard from multiple apoplectic motorists that sat stuck. They, like us, wondered why traffic pacing that often happens in overnight hours had to stop heavy traffic at high noon and rush hour on a weekday.

Much like the pacing for the delayed opening of Harbins Road, the striping on I-85 was annoying on a weekend but far more frustrating during a busy weekday travel time.

Thankfully, I-85 is now properly striped there.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on Contact him at





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