Gridlock Guy: Airborne insight on the I-285/Ga. 400 changes

If anything in Atlanta traffic has been teeth-gritting, it’s been the road work and delays in the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange in Sandy Springs. Some recent ramp openings and relocations in the past week have added to many motorists’ heartaches.

GDOT has recently opened the new I-285 westbound (Outer Loop) ramps to Ga. 400 (Exit 27), Peachtree Dunwoody (Exit 28), and Ashford Dunwoody and each exit is in a new location. This has caused confusion and changed traffic patterns in a big way.

The massive Transform 285/400 project, which broke ground in early 2017, aims to build big collector-distributor (CD) ramps that are meant to sequester the exiting-traffic and the vehicles traveling longer distances. Several new ramps have opened, but the product isn’t finished; the benefits are yet to be seen.

North Perimeter Contractors (NPC) has faced numerous challenges over the last five-plus years, including weather delays and labor and supply chain shortages. The scope of the project also has widened to include the rebuilding of several bridges, expanding the timeline. The project had already been delayed over a year. It is now set for an early 2023 completion, GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale told Triple Team Traffic’s Mike Shields in a recent Channel 2 Action News interview.

Smilin’ Mark McKay and the WSB Traffic Team watched the new Ga. 400 ramps open last Monday morning, fittingly coinciding with the first day of school in DeKalb and Fulton counties. Ashley Frasca noted that crews took 40 minutes in the 5 a.m. hour just to pace traffic ahead of the opening. But then drivers had to deal with a whole new layout.

“The biggest change was coming up on it. As you’re rolling in those right lanes as you leave the Chamblee Dunwoody bridge toward the Perimeter Mall region, a lot of confusion - a lot of folks going in and out. We’ve seen crashes in morning drive in those right lanes approaching Exit 29, Ashford Dunwoody Road,” McKay recalled on the latest WSB Traffic Podcast. The WSB Skycopter launched at 6 a.m., just in time for the ramps opening.

But the newest ramps - leading to Ga. 400 — did not seem to be the biggest problem in McKay’s bird’s eye view. “That has been the biggest [problem] I’ve seen — the single-lane I-285 west to Ashford Dunwoody. " Because, “that ramp really gets stacked up after 7 o’clock,” McKay said of the morning pattern, noting the right lanes regularly stack on I-285/wb (Outer Loop) back before Peachtree Industrial Boulevard (Exit 31).

The new ramps to Ga. 400, McKay noted, actually start nearly a mile earlier: right near the Ashford Dunwoody Road bridge. As drivers begin tapering over to find the new Ga. 400 ramps, they get stuck in the backup on the new, narrower Ashford Dunwoody exit ramp - an exit chock full of businesses and neighborhoods. Then once they drive onto the Ga. 400 exit they encounter more backups.

“Most mornings, that [new] ramp [to Ga. 400] moves okay until things start to stack up heading to Peachtree Dunwoody. So those folks heading to Ga. 400 north and south need to stay in the far left lane of that ramp,” McKay explained.

The Peachtree Dunwoody exit regularly backs up, because it is a single-lane ramp, up until the light. Now that ramp to the busy hospitals is adjacent to the new Ga. 400 ramps, of which the delays add another wrinkle in an already new and confusing setup.

“If you missed those ramps to Peachtree Dunwoody and Ga. 400, you had no way of getting back until Exit 24, Riverside. And Riverside, that roundabout there - all the right lanes from Roswell Road to Riverside were stacked up that morning. And I totally think that it was folks missing the Ga. 400 ramp and continuing on.” McKay said that the delays on Riverside then backed up an already-congested I-285/eastbound (Inner Loop), which stacks up badly on its own. The ramp that leads to both Glenridge Drive and Ga. 400 also begins as a single-lane exit. It’s a mess.

One does not have to go far to find criticism from drivers and residents in the area. The concerns are valid and the state is taking the blowback in stride.

Drivers need to remember a few things. First, this isn’t the finished product. The narrow, sinuous ramps and lanes are not part of the final design. When everything opens, the interchange will have more capacity and traffic should move more smoothly.

Sandy Springs and Dunwoody motorists also need to note that some of the confusion is simply because design is new. Traffic generally adapts, but that takes time.

And finally, anyone seeking to traverse the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange needs to plan ahead. Check our Triple Team Traffic Alerts App for any listed work zones and listen for live updates on 95.5 WSB. Drivers need to keep their heads on swivels - look early for the desired exit. Many of the exits already do or will soon begin earlier than before. Last minute moves to exits cause wrecks and missing said exits can add a lot of time to the commute.

This is all elementary, but the confusion still exists. Plan ahead, use caution, and be patient. This project may soon end, but more major work in the area is yet to come.

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.