The Interstate 85 bridge fire and collapse has thrown a major wrench in the commutes of a six-figured-number of Metro Atlantans. Now that we have lived with the closure of I-85 in both directions south of GA-400 for over a week, we have had time to observe several patterns.
The ride will get worse this week.
Atlanta was lucky, so to speak, for this collapse to have happened just before a Spring Break week for the majority of area K-12 schools. But those schools return this week, so many more cars will be on the roads. GDOT state engineer Andrew Heath told WSB’s Mark Arum on Thursday that they normally see a 15-20 percent decrease in traffic on Spring Break weeks. Some estimates indicate that traffic could be 30 percent worse than it was this past week. That uptick in delays is essentially like adding steady rain to the commute. As bad as Piedmont, Peachtree, Northside and Cheshire Bridge have been running, imagining them even worse is difficult.
People are indeed using I-285 as an alternate.
The Perimeter has seen a sharp increase in volume, as commuters bypass the I-85 closure. Interstate 285 through DeKalb and then through Sandy Springs to Interstate 75 in Cobb seems to be the stretch that has seen the biggest volume increase. Read that last sentence and then let the Braves’ Friday home opener sink into that equation. Braves officials may be jumping for joy that they are not at Turner Field anymore, but traffic getting to SunTrust Park on Friday will now be even worse than originally feared - and there is no great MARTA option to get there.
MARTA has a mixed report card.
MARTA’s flexibility and responsiveness during the collapse deserves praise. Just a few hours after the bridge fell, MARTA committed to running extra trains and personnel for the Friday commute. The increased trains continued through this past week. However, people quickly took to the rails and jam packed the furthermost parking decks on the Gold, Red, and Blue lines. MARTA immediately says it is working to find alternative lots for the greater commutes this week and working out possible bus shuttles from them. But with so many MARTA newbies, getting them in the right direction could be a challenge. MARTA is launching the itsmarta.com/parking page to show the capacities of its lots. Plan extra patience with the rail and bus services this post-Spring Break week.
Companies are responding to the collapse properly.
Chick-fil-A showed up at MARTA stations to give free breakfast to carpoolers. The fast food chain also has been feeding the hard-working crews at the collapse site. Coca-Cola and AT&T both have warned employees of the impending gridlock this week. And some employers are even stationing employees at off-site locations or allowing them to work from home. These advances are not options for many that have to be on-site for their jobs, but at least they are drops in the traffic bucket.
GDOT is engineering up a storm during this closure.
GDOT’s Heath leads the team that has somehow managed to open all but one lane of Piedmont Road. (You know, where a whole bridge practically fell!) They also have opened all but one lane of the Buford-Spring Connector/Highway 13 and have re-striped the southbound side of that road to allow two lanes to re-enter I-85/southbound. Heath says 30 engineers are working tirelessly to try and re-time the traffic signals on the nearby arteries that are seeing so much more volume from the I-85 closure. He says his crew is still studying car counts to see which traffic lights to hold on green for longer. We have had several complaints about the light timing on these clogged side roads, but that should improve.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org