The collapse of the Interstate 85 bridge may force commuters to embrace alternative transportation.

Gridlock Guy: I-85 bridge collapse could be blessing, if we let it

What I am about to say here could be a stretch. The biggest Atlanta traffic story since 2014’s Snowmageddon - this I-85 bridge collapse south of GA-400 that shuts it down for the next several months - will cause traffic implications unlike anything that we have seen. But the most impactful traffic story that I have flown over and covered in my 13 years on the job could spur at least a few positives. For all of the doom and gloom oozing through our lexicon, this long-term closure of a stretch of road that carries almost a quarter-of-a-million cars a day just might force us to finally consider MARTA.

These are promising times for Atlanta’s only heavy commuter rail service. The Keith Parker-led regime has sliced debt, gotten funding measures passed, unveiled electric buses and is replacing old rail cars. The Breeze card system is revamping and soon will be all-electronic. The Millennial generation is much more open to taking public transit than Baby Boomers and Gen-X’ers. And now circumstances are forcing Atlanta’s hand right into MARTA’s arms.

For MARTA opportunists, the I-85 bridge collapse could not have happened in a better place. As we outlined in our coverage on WSB all through the evening Thursday, if I-85 had closed just north of GA-400, then people could have used GA-400 as an alternate. If the fire and collapse had happened any more to the south, it could have damaged or interrupted the vital north-south MARTA rail line that goes between Doraville and the airport. And if this closure had occurred along I-75, MARTA would have been no use. That would have made this whole closure even more catastrophic.

Marta's general manager told Channel 2 that he's not certain how long MARTA can sustain the pace and may seek additional funding to help offset the cost of running overtime.

This is our time, northeast commuters, to give MARTA a fair chance these next few months. It may be less convenient than being totally beholden to your personal schedule in your car, but it also could save you far more time than sitting for an hour on Cheshire Bridge Road or Peachtree. Not jumping at this chance to try something new (and now necessary), puts us behind the times. Companies are choosing sites intentionally near MARTA stations to set up shop. People are now choosing where they live, based upon the convenience to easy transit. MARTA is far from perfect, but it seems ready for the challenge.

Late Thursday night, MARTA released a statement of preparation, saying they would have more staff and accommodate more capacity for the Friday commute. Friday’s AM commute was bad, but it could have been much worse - granted, DeKalb schools were out and Friday AM commutes are often the best of the work week. But MARTA also reported midday Friday that they had seen an increase in Breeze card holders and ridership since the I-85 closure.

Atlanta, we have to work together to get through this. We need to start considering different types of flex-scheduling, telecommuting, carpooling and alternate routes. This is mandatory. When Monday rolls around, when the Braves crank up, when the K-12 schools return from Spring Break, we cannot assume business as usual.

Stay with the WSB Traffic Team on News 95.5/AM750 WSB and on Channel 2 Action News, as we work to guide you through and try to give you more context than your GPS will offer. None of us has ever seen a long term traffic problem of this proportion and we might never again. So let’s treat it like the emergency like it is. Now seems like the perfect time to finally embrace MARTA.

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Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 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@coxinc.com

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