Gridlock Guy: Kinks being worked out on variable speed limits

With much fanfare the new variable speed limits were introduced on Interstate 285 recently. The changes were made on I-285 between Interstate 20 on both sides of town across the west, east and north sides of I-285.

Depending on traffic conditions and incidents the speed limits will increase or decrease by 10 mph increments between 35 mph and 65 mph.

The first two weeks of the program have not been without difficulties. I’ve heard from many motorists who found that that speed limit signs showed different numbers on the left and right sides of the roads. For example, the sign on the left side of the road showed 45 mph while the one on the right read 65 mph.

WSB Radio and WSB-TV airborne traffic reporter Mark McKay has heard similar complaints.

“During the rollout, listeners were quick to point out glitches such as a speed limit of 0 mph on an open stretch of I-285 in DeKalb County,” McKay said.

In theory, I think the variable speed limit signs are a good idea. The idea is to slow traffic down when there is a problem ahead on the roadway. That way motorists traveling 65-plus mph aren’t forced to slam on their breaks as they approach a crash or stall in the road.

“The number one reason for this is safety,” said GDOT’s chief engineer Russell McMurry.

Slowing traffic down heading to an accident scene can actually improve traffic overall.

“If everyone can comply and try to drive a similar speed limit, and is not having the slamming on brakes, they can actually get there faster,” said McMurry.

The question is, are the variable speed limit signs helping yet?

“I haven’t personally seen a difference,” McKay said. “Then again when we fly over I-285 (especially north of I-20) during morning and afternoon drive times, a good part of the perimeter highway is virtual gridlock due to high traffic volume and incidents.”

McKay is optimistic that they eventually will make a difference.

“The greatest good that the variable speed limits will have is when a crash occurs,” McKay said. “Having the ability to lower the speed limit behind an incident will help motorists avoid slamming on their brakes and causing secondary crashes. Lowering I-285 speed limits during wet weather, and raising them once the interstate dries out, is also an advantage.”

Like any change on our roadways it will take some time to iron out the kinks and have drivers get used to the changes. The DOT agrees.

“I just ask that everyone give this a chance,” said McMurry. “It’s going to take some patience, take some understanding.”

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