I-285 traffic mess could continue for a year

Construction continues on a new I-285 interchange at Ga. 400. The project was scheduled to be open to traffic by the end of the year, but the Georgia Department of Transportation now says the work could last until the third quarter of 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Construction continues on a new I-285 interchange at Ga. 400. The project was scheduled to be open to traffic by the end of the year, but the Georgia Department of Transportation now says the work could last until the third quarter of 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Construction delays could leave motorists stranded in traffic at one of metro Atlanta’s busiest highway interchanges for another year.

The new I-285 interchange at Ga. 400 was supposed to be open to traffic by the end of this year. But the contractor on the project has notified the Georgia Department of Transportation that the work could drag on until the third quarter of 2022.

North Perimeter Contractors has told GDOT that poor weather and unmarked utilities contributed to the delay. The coronavirus pandemic also has been a factor, affecting staffing as well as supply chains for construction materials.

GDOT is evaluating the reasons for the delays, and the contractor could face financial penalties for failing to get the work done on time. Representatives of North Perimeter Contractors could not be reached for comment.

“We’ll hold the contractor accountable, per the requirements of the contract,” said Marlo Clowers, the GDOT manager overseeing the project.

That may be little comfort for motorists who have been living with orange barrels since major construction began in 2017. The construction zone stretches for miles along both highways, and motorists have seen a bewildering array of lane shifts and closures. Though much of the work has been done at night and on weekends, traffic can back up near the interchange at any time of day.

Construction is about to enter an especially disruptive stage. The contractor will soon begin building several new I-285 bridges, and the Perimeter will be reduced from five lanes to three in each direction from Roswell Road to Ashford Dunwoody Road.

The reduction in lanes is set to begin before Labor Day and was supposed to be done by the end of the year. Now that, too, will continue into 2022, though a specific timetable has not been determined.

“There’s a lot of moving parts. If one thing shifts, then many things shift,” GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale said. “There are ways for them to make up some of that time.”

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Construction crews work on new bridge to Ashford Dunwoody Road in Sandy Springs on Friday. The work is part of the massive construction project along I-285 at Ga. 400. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Construction crews work on new bridge to Ashford Dunwoody Road in Sandy Springs on Friday. The work is part of the massive construction project along I-285 at Ga. 400. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Construction crews work on new bridge to Ashford Dunwoody Road in Sandy Springs on Friday. The work is part of the massive construction project along I-285 at Ga. 400. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

More than 400,000 vehicles pass through the interchange each day, though it was designed to accommodate just 100,000. It’s become a major traffic bottleneck.

In addition to rebuilding the interchange, the project involves adding new lanes on both I-285 and Ga. 400, building a new diverging-diamond interchange at Abernathy Road and making other improvements. Originally, the work was supposed to be done last summer.

But GDOT has twice expanded the scope of the project, which now includes three new I-285 bridges, and bike and pedestrian trails. That pushed the opening back to the end of 2021.

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With the latest delay, it’s unclear exactly when the interchange will be completely open to traffic. But Dale said about 78% of the work is already done, and some new ramps and lanes are already open.

GDOT will continue opening new lanes and ramps in stages in the coming months as work continues.

“We’re getting benefits as we go, despite the fact that the whole project isn’t open,” Dale said.

Despite the delays, Dale said the $800 million price tag of the project has not changed.