Since a fire led to the collapse of a segment of I-85 in Buckhead March 30, the Georgia Department of Transportation has scrambled to reopen the vital stretch of highway into the heart of Atlanta. Officials now say the bridge will open before May 26, ahead of the previous June date. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Life with Gracie: If you’re grateful I-85 is reopening sooner, say amen

I’m grateful for any amount of highway lanes above one.

I didn’t know that, of course, until very recently when my twice-weekly commute to church turned into a short road trip.

Thursdays to and from choir rehearsal have always been considerable — the trip down I-85 more than the trip northward toward home — but I’d gotten used to that. That was like breathing.

But in a funny kind of way, I looked forward to Sunday’s drive to church because while I-85 South wasn’t a desert, it wasn’t carmageddon either. We could make the trip in 40 minutes. Thirty if Jimmy is behind the wheel.

Not so much anymore, and the commute home has been almost unbearable. For one thing, I seldom have breakfast before church, so I’m starving like Marvin. And for another, the ride home has more than doubled to over an hour.

If you’ve tried to get onto Ga. 13 to continue your commute north on I-85, you know what I’m talking about.

I was in choir rehearsal the night the I-85 North bridge collapsed and a couple of sopranos behind me started feverishly passing their cellphones.

My mouth dropped as I glimpsed the image of roiling black smoke mixed with balls of fire on one of their cellphones and an top news headline.

Luckily, rehearsal was almost over, because I was done. It was nearly impossible to think of lyrics and notes when I was trying to figure out the best route home. I’d settled on taking I-20 West into I-285 North, but as I left minutes later, a friend suggested I-75 North to I-285 would be a better route as we headed for the exits.

“You’ll be home in no time,” she said as we went our separate ways.

No time turned into more than an hour, but I didn’t know how lucky I’d been until I read in the next day’s paper about people standing still for as much as four hours in traffic.

If you were given to complaining about the traffic before that fateful Thursday night, you might be like me now — counting your blessings, never mind the fact that researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found years ago that our commute might be killing us.

I suspected this when my blood pressure started creeping upward a few years ago. Not much else in my life had changed. I’ve spent more than half my life under deadline pressure, married to ‘hem sweet Jimmy, trying to keep Jamila and Asha on the straight and narrow and manage my own neurosis. It had to be my lonnggg commutes to work.

According to researchers, people who live more than 10 miles from their work are more likely to have high blood pressure than people with shorter commutes. I live 19 miles from the office and drive anywhere from 30-40 miles to meet people I get to tell you about.

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I’m not obese but the same research showed that people who commute more than 15 miles each way are much more likely to be fat, perhaps because people who commute that distance don’t get enough daily activity.

“Most of the findings were fairly intuitive,” Christine Hoehner, the lead author of the study, was quoted saying at the time. “But this is the first study to show that long commutes take away from exercise and lead to conditions that are strong predictors of diabetes, obesity, and some cancers.”

Even long commuters who found ways to get enough exercise were more likely to have high blood pressure than people with shorter commutes who get the same amount of exercise. That may be because commuting is a highly stressful activity.

Hoehner believes the traffic piece is particularly important.

“Even with longer commutes, if you don’t have the traffic, you don’t have the day-to-day unpredictability and stress it causes,” she said.

We’d been told the I-85 expanse destroyed by fire will reopen sometime in June. Now, thank God, that date has been moved up to late May (or possibly sooner), and I couldn’t be happier.

Not just because my commute and my blood pressure will get back to normal, but because I’ve been reminded to be grateful in all things.

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