Major I-285 lane closures near Atlanta delayed until June

State officials will postpone a major reduction in lanes on the top end of I-285 until next summer to try to head off major traffic problems.

The Georgia Department of Transportation planned to reduce the Perimeter from five lanes to three lanes in each direction beginning this weekend as work continues on a new I-285 interchange at Ga. 400. Now the lane closures won’t come until June, after all the other interchange work is completed.

GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale said waiting until the other work is done will make the lane closures much less disruptive. But it will also delay the completion of the project until the end of 2022 — dragging out construction on one of the nation’s busiest stretches of highway for several more months.

It’s unclear whether the delay will affect the cost of the $800 million project.

“It’s a bit longer timeline (for construction) but a far less significant impact on the traveling public, commerce and people who live and work in the area,” Dale said.

It’s the latest delay for a project that has already been extended several times. Major construction on the new I-285/Ga. 400 interchange began in 2017 and originally was supposed to be finished last year.

ExploreMetro Atlanta: Get ready for a decade of road construction

But the scope of the project increased twice, with GDOT adding more bridges on I-285. That delayed the projected opening until the end of this year.

The company doing the work, North Perimeter Contractors, recently told GDOT that weather, unmarked utilities, the coronavirus pandemic and other factors would delay completion until the third quarter of 2022.

Under the latest timeline, the work won’t be done until the end of 2022. But GDOT says motorists will be better off.

The contractor must replace I-285 bridges over Glenridge Drive, Ga. 400 and Peachtree Dunwoody Road. To do that, GDOT plans to close two lanes in each direction on I-285 from Roswell Road to Ashford Dunwoody Road.

The lane closures originally were scheduled to begin before Labor Day and last until June. GDOT expected huge traffic jams.

ExploreRead more about the I-285 construction planned at Georgia 400

Motorists could expect it to take an additional 18 minutes or more to travel roughly five miles from Riverside Drive to Chamblee Dunwoody Road — and that’s if everything went well. Everything seldom goes well on the Perimeter.

“Any accident, any fender bender, any person cutting you off very quickly grows,” Dale said. “That becomes really destructive to the commute on 285.”

The lane closures were delayed for weeks because rainy weather hindered construction. Now GDOT and the contractor have negotiated a new plan.

North Perimeter Contractors will finish all the other work associated with the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange by June. That includes miles of new collector-distributor lanes along both highways, and new ramps and bridges at various interchanges.

Then it will build the three new I-285 bridges, with the work wrapping up by the end of the year.

The company faced possible penalties because of the recently announced delays. It’s unclear whether those penalties will now be assessed. But Dale said the contractor faces larger penalties if it doesn’t meet the new deadlines.

She said completing the other work first will benefit motorists because the new lanes, ramps and other improvements will provide more capacity on I-285. Much of that work was supposed to be done by now, but it isn’t because of the various delays.

Dale said waiting until the other work is done will make traffic better than it would have been without those improvements, though she could not say how much better.

“You will have more (highway) capacity that offers more mobility and more safety while these lanes are closed,” she said. “This is a good thing.”