Though not as rainy as the week before, last week saw a couple of rainy morning rush hours that again showed the inverse relationship between precipitation and driving talent. In the last edition of this column, we discussed why driving with hazard lights on in heavy rain is wrong. This time around, we need to look at two places on Metro Atlanta interstates that seem to see vehicles spinning around when rain falls.
On a late April Saturday morning, my wife, Momo, and I were driving to Hartsfield Jackson Airport and it was a white knuckle-affair. Rain fell in buckets, causing several wrecks along our half-hour commute. When we ramped from I-285/southbound (Inner Loop) in DeKalb onto I-20/westbound, I got Momo’s attention. I told her that we were coming up on the place in Atlanta where we almost always see cars wreck in the rain.
This spot was not in that I-285-I-20 interchange in DeKalb, which, before additions of ample signage several years ago, saw some of the biggest rig rollover wrecks in the nation. The rainy crash zone was not on one of the I-20 ramps at I-75/85, that sharp I-75/southbound ramp to I-85/northbound in Midtown, or somewhere in the Spaghetti Junction-I-85/I-285 interchange.
As we merged onto I-20/westbound I told Momo that just ahead was a spot where cars often spin on the left side of the road and usually into the median wall. As soon as I said that, sure enough, there was a car against the left wall with their headlights facing us on I-20/westbound just before Candler Road (Exit 65).
I couldn’t help but laugh, as I called it into my WSB Triple Team Traffic cohort, Mike Shields. When Shields picked up, he said he would just wake up an earlier crash he had plotted there in our Triple Team Traffic Alerts App. The inevitable happened again that early Saturday morning.
The rest of the Traffic Team and I still cannot quite understand why cars seem to always wipe out when the I-20/westbound pavement at Candler Road gets wet. Traffic volume is normally light around that location, so people can carry a lot of speed. High velocity causes many mishaps on rainy roads. But something more must be at play if people are wrecking so regularly at that spot.
Could there be more standing water at that spot than others? If there is, it’s not very obvious and I haven’t seen water pool up there both in passing or in watching that area on the WSB Jam Cams. I-20 does curve just east of Candler Road, but not any more than other freeways do. And we have only noticed this trend in the last couple of years at this spot, so something must have changed. And rain is very likely the cause for these wrecks because we don’t see these repeated spinouts in dry weather. So we really do not know why, but we can tell you for sure to be extra careful when taking I-20/westbound near Candler Road in the rain.
Another crash-prone slick spot has lost its top ranking to that I-20 stretch. But the I-75/I-675 southbound merge still trips up motorists, especially tractor-trailers, and especially in the rain. When we analyzed this almost a year ago in this space, GDOT told us they already had in place more signage to warn drivers, especially those from out of town and less familiar with the area, of the 55 mph speed limit and the curve ahead. Road crews have also been working quite a bit in the area, presumably to increase the friction of the road surface in the interchange.
The crash count in this region has gone down, so the wreck-curbing measures seem to be working. But tractor-trailers are still wiping out enough to keep the yellow flag flying. This stretch in Stockbridge has become less dangerous in the rain, but certainly is one that needs extra attention behind the wheel.
There are other spots that see their share of crashes in the rain. Any transition ramp has a higher crash percentage, especially ones with full curves. Work zones are always tricky during storms, because they often have narrower lanes, lane shifts, limited shoulder access, and sometimes even drainage issues. But taking note of where drivers in rain make the most errors is another good defensive driving weapon. And, for some reason, I-20/westbound near Candler Road outside of Decatur seems to take the crashing cake in the rain.
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.