Gridlock Guy: Recent snafus reminders how unpredictable Atlanta traffic can be

Credit: WSBTV Videos

A trademark of the past two years of pandemic-shifted traffic is the change in patterns. Commutes all but disappeared during pandemic shutdowns and then returned haltingly as places slowly opened and people continued teleworking and attending school remotely. Hybrid working continues, but that hasn’t eliminated rush hours; it’s just pushed volume into different times.

So we have experienced the unpredictability of traffic patterns of late, but even harsher are the problems lurking around corners that jump seemingly out of nowhere. Recent construction and repair projects have done just that.

Sandy Springs commuters have grown used to the lane shifts, exit changes, pacing and closures in the GA-400 and I-285 interchange. The years-long Transform I-285/400 project is set to finish by the end of the year, but there have been recent complications as crews have tried to complete phases.

Crews usually wrap up work by 5 a.m., but a lane closure on GA-400/southbound near the North Springs MARTA Station this past Tuesday stayed out longer, causing delays. The crew prepped to remove the closure, but had fallen behind schedule. As they began to remove it, traffic volume increased to a point where they could not remove it efficiently and they had to pace all lanes at least three different times to finally do so. This gridlocked GA-400/southbound traffic back to Roswell, a very surprising Tuesday occurrence.

Even people that bank on GA-400 traffic sometimes being difficult didn’t anticipate the pacing. There wasn’t supposed to be any, and certainly not after 5 a.m.

Drivers simply cannot leave the house anywhere without checking on conditions first. Not in this town.

The unwelcome surprises on GA-400 last Tuesday also jammed the northbound side, where traffic already is tricky. GDOT shifted traffic to the right in brand new lanes on GA-400/northbound between I-285 and Abernathy Road, as they began to rebuild the GA-400 bridge over Abernathy. This kink has slowed traffic out of Buckhead and jammed up the I-285 ramps at times.

Construction continued this fateful morning on GA-400/northbound in one to two left lanes until almost 8 a.m. The big delay behind that also had major consequences on busy I-285 in both directions, as many commuters filed into those single-lane ramps onto GA-400/northbound.

Hundreds, maybe thousands of drivers expected their normal roll into work and hit the brake light-buzz saw. When that happens, side streets clog quickly and more and more people get caught up in unplanned jams.

GDOT replied promptly to our inquiries about the foibles. The state said North Perimeter Contractors, the company running the project, ran into some problems and will receive monetary fines for going past the cutoff time.

WSB Triple Team Traffic noticed the delays immediately and started updating the jams frequently on 95.5 WSB and Channel 2 Action News. Push alerts went out quickly on the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App , as did numerous posts on social media. The information was well known about this unusual jam and yet many people still drove right into it.

The same held true the day before on I-285 in Southwest Atlanta. In the days prior, drivers had noticed a hole opening on the I-285 bridge over Mount Gilead Road, just north of the Highway 166 exit. When GDOT got wind of this, they briefly had to shut down both sides of I-285 around 2 p.m. That caused big jams both ways on I-285 between I-20 and Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.

After crews determined the bridge was structurally sound, they settled into the two right lanes of I-285/northbound, patching that large hole until 4 a.m. the next day. Closing half of I-285/northbound through a Monday PM rush hour made for 20-30 minute delays leaving I-85. That, of course, sent extra traffic to I-75/85/northbound as an alternate and clogged other road arteries.

These are just two instances where big problems grew out of seemingly routine work, checks, or maintenance. This doesn’t include the tremendous amount of wrecks and stalls that serve as daily stumbling blocks for the drive around town. Those can occur instantly and can be hard to plan around.

But big closures and interruptions that stop traffic for hours? People right behind those closures may not have had the chance to steer around them. But the drivers that end up far back in the delays did so only because they didn’t plan. Atlanta has some major road infrastructure plans in the next 10-15 years, not to mention more attention being paid lately to potholes and other issues that require maintenance. These unplanned closures will happen again and again.

There is no more accurate place to get traffic often than WSB Triple Team Traffic. Tune in on radio or TV from home, open the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App and opt in for push alerts and check @ajcwsbtraffic on Twitter. Keep the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App running while you drive and reports that our team records about major incidents will play automatically over your phone and even in tandem with your GPS app when you drive in their direction.

The information is out there. Our team is on the offense 24/7, looking for the latest problems and their severity. Information is your biggest defense against sitting in big jams like the ones many experienced by total surprise last week.

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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