Gridlock Guy: Second round of Game of Cones far worse than the first

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

GDOT’s announcement and forewarning of the eight-month lane reduction on I-285 near GA-400 in Sandy Springs sent shockwaves of anxiety through many Metro Atlanta commuters. The year-delayed effort to rebuild the I-285 bridges over Glenridge Drive, GA-400, and Peachtree Dunwoody Road is the the last major hurrah in the years-long Transform 285/400 interchange revamp. But it was going to be a mess.

The first reduction of I-285 to three lanes was eastbound, on the Inner Loop, on the weekend of October 8th. That stretch has stayed relatively delay-free, since the final placement of several new, extended ramps opened and added capacity on that stretch.

The doom! The gloom! The … what?

So when GDOT announced the I-285/westbound (Outer Loop) would take its lumps and file down to three lanes two weeks later, the stress levels did not peg nearly as much. That reprieve didn’t last long.

From day one of the I-285/westbound lane-reduction, traffic has been extremely slow during most daylight hours from Doraville, past GA-400. Even with newer, commodious ramps opened to Ashford Dunwoody Road (Exit 29), Peachtree Dunwoody Road (Exit 28), GA-400 (Exit 27), and Roswell Road (Exit 25), there simply is more traffic and more delays in that zone.

But major traffic incidents have also been more prevalent on this side of the wall.

The WSB Traffic Team, led by Skycopter anchor Smilin’ Mark McKay, had a crazy-busy Halloween morning, highlighted by a tractor trailer that flipped over and spilled the large load it was carrying. It couldn’t have happened in a worse place, shutting down I-285/westbound right at Roswell Rd., just where the lane reduction ends.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The team issued a traffic RED ALERT — meaning a full freeway closure — and I-285/westbound stayed mostly or fully blocked for hours. The jam was even worse, because of the small section that was only three lanes-wide. The jams heavily impacted Peachtree Industrial/Highway 141/southbound and I-85/southbound from Gwinnett.

Just the very next morning, Perimeter commuters heading west saw November greet them with hard slaps in the grilles. Work crews were late clearing overnight construction and took until nearly 7 a.m. to fully pull the cones on both GA-400/northbound and I-285/westbound.

“The full closure of 400 was late reopening,” GDOT spokesperson Kyle Collins told the WSB Traffic Team. “The contractor was still cleaning up from demolition work. This caused a delay in traffic control removal.”

Sometimes things go wrong and mistakes happen, but this latent opening caused similar consequences as the prior day’s RED ALERT.

And, again, the delays were worse because of the constriction to three lanes there near GA-400.

Collins said that the crew will face penalties, as per their contract. The delays the foible caused warrant that reprimand.

But incidents aside, why are the delays worse westbound than eastbound? There simply is more traffic in that direction all times of day, because of the amount of businesses on both Ashford Dunwoody and Peachtree Dunwoody roads. And there just always seems to be more people coming down I-85/southbound from Gwinnett County and connecting with I-285/westbound than there are on I-75/southbound from Cobb County that take I-285/eastbound.

There also may be a complacency about avoiding I-285 in Sandy Springs, since the initial closure caused nowhere near the expected bedlam.

Another reality is that despite there being both freeway and surface street alternates to ease the pain, the time needed to change a route may outweigh the time lost sitting in slow I-285/westbound traffic.

If a few more I-285/westbound vehicles - even 10% - took I-85/southbound to I-75/northbound (Exit 85) as a way around the tangles, the Outer Loop would move dramatically better. If just a few more people took Hammond Drive, Windsor Parkway, Perimeter Center West/Abernathy, Johnson Ferry, or Mount Vernon, then the Perimeter pain would be less.

But would all of that effort be worth just losing another five or 10 minutes per vehicle on I-285/westbound from Doraville to Sandy Springs? Maybe not.

All that said, these next seven remaining months will be a slog. At least it isn’t the Traffic-geddon we predicted.

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.