Georgia braces for Hurricane Irma traffic

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Georgia braces for Hurricane Irma traffic

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AP Photo/Marta Lavandier
Hundreds of thousands of Georgia and Florida residents are urged to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Georgia officials are opening toll lanes and halting road construction as they prepare for a glut of motorists evacuating coastal areas ahead of Hurricane Irma.

But they’re also reminding motorists they don’t have to stick to crowded interstate, and Atlanta doesn’t have to be their destination.

“Right now the trend we’re seeing is the entirety of Florida is coming to Atlanta,” said Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Natalie Dale. “We just want people to know there are more options.”

Hundreds of thousands of people are evacuating coastal areas of Georgia and Florida. That has snarled traffic, especially on I-75. Dale said traffic on I-75 was substantially higher than normal in metro Atlanta, Valdosta and Macon.

To accommodate hurricane traffic, state officials have taken several steps.

Beginning today, the State Road and Tollway Authority has suspended the usual rules for the I-75 South Metro Express Lanes in Clayton and Henry counties.

Using those lanes normally requires a Peach Pass or a Florida SunPass, and motorists are charged a toll. But the state is allowing anyone to use the 12 miles of lanes south of Atlanta – whether they have a Peach Pass or not – and has stopped collecting tolls for the time being. Tractor trailers are still prohibited from using the lanes.

Interstate 75 is packed with vehicles in south Georgia.

In addition, SRTA will keep the reversible lanes headed northbound. Typically, they are reversed in the afternoon to accommodate southbound rush-hour traffic. The lanes will continue to carry northbound traffic until further notice.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Department of Transportation will suspend construction-related lane closures south of I-20 from noon today through 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Finally, the state will convert all lanes on I-16 to eastbound beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday to accommodate people evacuating from the Georgia coast.

Even as the state prepared for a traffic onslaught, Dale reminded motorists they don’t have to stick to crowded interstates – secondary highways might offer a less-congested route. And she said Atlanta doesn’t need to be the only destination for those fleeing the hurricane.

For updates on Hurricane Irma, download the AJC Breaking News app.

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Weather and Traffic