Gridlock Guy: Trump’s visit highlights I-75 truck lanes, doesn’t disrupt commute

President Donald Trump’s most recent visit to Atlanta last Wednesday brought news that would help ease gridlock. Presidential visits usually bring just the opposite.

In fact, Trump’s last foray in town was the week before the United States shut down. And his visit to the CDC ridiculously shut down freeways far longer than anyone predicted and caused monumental delays in the evening commute that Friday in early March.

But this trip took Air Force One into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, as opposed to Dobbins Air Force Base. Trump’s destination was a UPS hub right on the property, meaning his motorcade would not need to shut down any freeway or major highway. It was glorious.

So despite POTUS’ being in Atlanta in the 3 and 4 p.m. hours on a weekday, the commute went largely uninterrupted. Atlantans’ fears subsided.

Since Trump traveled such a short route, GDOT wasn’t forced to disable all of its live cameras that both they and we use to monitor traffic problems. This extremely annoying protocol is normally done for security reasons on visits by the president and vice president. With storms popping up all over town, we needed those WSB Jam Cams to track other problems and delays. Those same storms also grounded our WSB Skycopter, so the flight restriction attached to Trump’s arrival and departure had no extra effect on us. Trump’s visit actually became an afterthought!

But the speech was worth traffic reporters still paying at least some attention. Trump announced a dramatic rollback in Nixon-era environmental regulations that could reduce the time for projects to come to fruition.

“It could be 20-21 years to two years and actually one year, I think ultimately we’ll have,” Trump told Channel 2 Action News’ Richard Elliot in an exclusive interview. During the speech, Trump pointed to a colorful graph of environmental regulations with a chart a third of its size showing the new amount of federal rules. Trump did not provide an example of a 20-year road project, or concrete evidence of the people who develop projects their entire careers and retire before their completion, as he claimed in the speech. Governor Brian Kemp tweeted an infographic stating that the old process for highway projects would be seven years; the new way will only take two.

Today’s announcement by @POTUS is a win for the future of our state and economy. By cutting red tape and streamlining bureaucracy, these reforms will pave the way for new infrastructure projects and ensure job creators can continue creating opportunity for hardworking Georgians. pic.twitter.com/Jabou91z1D

— Governor Brian P. Kemp (@GovKemp) July 15, 2020

Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry spoke at the event, lauding Trump’s move to cut through red tape. McMurry referenced having met with Trump to relay the need to do so, as Georgia’s population grows and freight traffic clogs the roads.

The only specific project Trump mentioned helping expedite is the long-discussed freight or truck-only lanes along I-75 between McDonough and Macon. Tractor trailers make up a large percentage of the traffic on that route, as freight demands from the Port of Savannah have increased. Trump’s reference to those lanes made the UPS hub a very appropriate venue to announce it.

The Trump Administration has discussed a $1 trillion infrastructure plan since occupying the West Wing in January 2017. And the nation’s roads, tracks, and bridges certainly need more attention. But one concern about greenlighting projects too quickly is that tax money could get spent too quickly on projects not actually needed. Another is, of course, that the short-term gain from, for example, adding lanes somewhere might not be worth the environmental fallout long term.

And then there is the decrease in travel delays the pandemic has caused. Could enough people telework in the future — even when the threat of disease subsides — that Atlanta’s trademark gridlock is much more moderate? Are slight delays worth the billions that some improvements cost? Either way, there are many bridges that need replacing, traffic jams or not.

But speeding up projects should bolster their efficacy. If road work takes too long, the population could very well outgrow what the project was designed to alleviate. And tax money is more wisely spent actually designing and building the enhancements and not litigating them. It’s all a balance.

Trump began his speech by saying that the days of sitting in Atlanta gridlock are over, saying that his regulation slashing would essentially eliminate Atlanta traffic. That is nonsense. No project or set of rules can ever make commuting jams disappear. But Trump’s moves to decrease regulations are going to speed up the process of mitigating some trouble spots. And that revelation is a good thing, if done cautiously.


Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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