GDOT now says work on the interchange won’t be finished until the second half of 2023 — the latest delay for a project that has had plenty of them.
The agency postponed the lane reductions last year until more work on the interchange could be completed and more vehicles diverted onto a system of new lanes around the interchange. And businesses in the area have encouraged employees to work from home or take MARTA.
But don’t fool yourself. Closing lanes on a highway traveled daily by hundreds of thousands of people will mean colossal traffic jams. GDOT says your commute could take an hour longer on a bad day. And it’s encouraging commuters to avoid the area altogether.
“I think motorists will quickly find that it is much less stressful and complicated to go around (the interchange) than go through,” GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale said. “Going around may add 20 minutes to your trip, but going through could change your entire day.”
The I-285 lane closures are the latest phase of a massive project that began in 2017. GDOT is rebuilding the I-285 interchange at Ga. 400, complete with new flyover ramps and a system of parallel lanes along both highways. When it’s done, the interchange will be almost as big as Spaghetti Junction, where I-285 meets I-85 northeast of Atlanta.
On Ga. 400, the project also includes a new diverging diamond interchange at Abernathy Road and a new bridge at Mount Vernon Highway. It includes new I-285 bridges over Glenridge Drive, Ga. 400 and Peachtree Dunwoody Road.
It’s the construction of those I-285 bridges that will require GDOT to close up to two lanes in each direction from Roswell Road to Ashford Dunwoody Road.
At first, GDOT will close the inside lanes in each direction so crews can build the interior portions of the three bridges. The work is expected to take about four months.
Then the agency will reopen the inside lanes and close the outside lanes to build the remaining portions of the bridges. That also will take about four months.
GDOT says it will keep at least three lanes open in each direction. But Dale said there’s no shoulder on I-285 in the affected area. That means a minor fender bender could take out one of the remaining lanes.
Before the closures begin, contractor North Perimeter Contractors must finish two other interchange-related projects. The first is an I-285 connecting lane from Peachtree Dunwoody Road to past Roswell Road. The second is a Ga. 400 northbound and southbound exit lane to I-285 eastbound.
That work is progressing, and GDOT said the eastbound I-285 lane reduction could begin as soon as Saturday. The date could change because of bad weather or other factors.
Delays have become a regular occurrence for an $800 million project that originally was supposed to be completed in 2020. That’s in part because GDOT expanded the scope of the project to include the new Glenridge and Peachtree Dunwoody bridges.
Unmarked utilities, bad weather and supply-chain and labor shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic also have played a role.
The I-285 lane reductions originally were scheduled before Labor Day 2021. But GDOT decided to delay the work until more of the interchange was completed. In recent weeks GDOT has opened a new I-285 eastbound exit for Glenridge Drive and Ga. 400 and a new I-285 westbound exit onto Ga. 400.
“We have given a significant amount of new pavement for cars to use,” Dale said. “If we would have done this without providing more opportunities for movement, it would have been catastrophic.”
Local businesses are encouraging employees to work at home or take MARTA to work. The Perimeter Community Improvement Districts has spent $15,000 on additional directional signs for the Sandy Springs station, Executive Director Ann Hanlon said.
But no amount of preparation can prevent major traffic disruptions. GDOT advises motorists to avoid the area if possible, use navigation apps to find alternative routes and — if you have to drive through the area — give yourself extra time.
“It’s a profound traffic shift, and we are encouraging people to travel outside of this corridor if possible,” Dale said. “Use all your tools to find new ways to get where you’re going.”