Fleeing Hurricane Ian? Here’s how to navigate Atlanta traffic

Florida evacuations are causing traffic woes in Atlanta

Florida traffic heading into Georgia ahead of Hurricane Ian has been causing traffic jams here, first on 75 south of the city, then on I-285 and the Downtown Connector (I-75/85).

On Tuesday afternoon, the WSB Traffic Team and I saw a half hour-plus backup on I-75 northbound on the south side. The delays stood mainly between Highway 16 (Exit 205) in Spalding County and Jodeco Road (Exit 222) in Henry County. That stretch, where traffic was chugging along at about 20 mph, stayed dark red on our Triple Team Traffic Alerts App until at least after 8 p.m. Wrecks caused very little of that delay. It was all traffic volume.

Once that traffic broke loose in Stockbridge, it started piling in on I-285 (downtown Atlanta’s bypass) on both sides of Atlanta heading north to I-20. I-75/85/northbound was packed worse than normal from north of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and up GA-400 northbound into Buckhead, north of downtown Atlanta. 75 northbound stayed slow from where it splits northwest out of Midtown and stayed slow up to a longterm lane-shift at I-285 (Exit 259).

There was no question that Tuesday afternoon traffic in Atlanta was worse than normal or that evacuation patterns from Florida created that push.

Here are some tips for the displaced, as we welcome you to Atlanta. And this info can surely help locals, too.

Traffic is bad everywhere, but is worst south of Atlanta. This may be the most vague axiom, but I-75/northbound from roughly Exits 205 to 222 (as mentioned above) is narrow and is the main artery between Florida and North Georgia. Hwy. 42/23 (east of I-75) is the first alternate to fill up. Hwy. 19/41 (west of I-75) is more out of the way, but that makes it move a bit better than the other two main roads.

Note that the state is keeping the I-75 Peach Pass Express Lanes pointed in the northbound direction for the duration of the storm. They run from Highway 155 (Exit 216) to I-675 (Exit 227), so they run in the middle of the normal backup zone. The Florida SunPass is compatible with Georgia’s toll lanes.

Once that northbound traffic arrives in Atlanta, I-285, I-75/85, and I-75 (heading northwest of town) generally feel the most out-of-town heat.

But we also saw an unusually large crowd of cars gather Tuesday on I-85/northbound between Duluth and Buford (northeast of Atlanta).

Beware of increased crash count: As the earlier waves of hurricane traffic got closer to Metro Atlanta, they crashed into the normal Atlanta backups: literally. Driving in an unfamiliar place leads to last minute maneuvers and those can cause havoc.

We saw multiple, hard wrecks - serious rear-enders - as fast traffic met backups. We do not know which, if any, of these collisions involved out-of-town plates. But we often see gnarly wrecks when conditions change and this influx of people is a big change. So keep your eyes on the road and drive carefully.

Georgia is also a hands-free state: There are slight differences between Georgia and Florida’s phone regulations in cars, but both states basically allow very few instances of drivers using phones behind the wheel. Georgia’s law bans most motorists from holding their phones at all and they can only access the phones to make phone calls or make GPS maneuvers.

Many Georgians egregiously break this law, but following it keeps drivers and those around them safe.

Limit unnecessary travel: With extra people heading through town, both locals and visitors alike should look to keep the roads as open as possible. That takes a village.

If you’re heaving home and staying in the Atlanta area for a few days, pick a good spot and hang there until things calm down. Locals, if you can avoid the aforementioned hot spots then leave the room.

Weather is about to get lousy here over Friday and Saturday, so find some good shows to watch or listen to, bring some games and puzzles, cozy up to a good book, turn on the plethora of sports (that do not get rained out), and stay put.

Atlanta Motor Speedway has opened its First Turn campgrounds to evacuees that need cheap shelter and have the means to camp. The Georgia State Fair is on the site, so that could be a good entertainment option when the weather is not bad.

Regardless of the angst that slow traffic causes, Atlanta welcomes our friends that are fleeing Hurricane Ian. We hope your stay here is as comfortable as it can be, given the circumstances.

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 wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.