The airborne view of the nearly-completed repairs on Peachree Rd., crossing I-85 in Uptown Atlanta from the WSB Skycopter. Credit: Ashley Frasca, WSB Traffic Team.

Gridlock Guy: Pain of Peachtree Street construction about to pay off

Peachtree Street in uptown Atlanta has been a hot mess for most of 2017. Constant daytime lane closures on the bridge over I-85, just south of Deering Road have severely hampered those traversing that route between Midtown and Buckhead. But just like any road project, the modifications to Peachtree are meant for long term gain and cause short term pain. The problems some motorists have, however, are removed from those future benefits.

One of the biggest gripes those stuck on Peachtree have is that the lane closures were taking place during drive time. Typically, a DOT lane closure during the week has to take place outside of the rush hour windows: 5-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m. That’s a general rule, though rush hours spill outside of these bounds. But the closures to build the arches on Peachtree’s I-85 bridge were not done by GDOT, even though they were on a GDOT-maintained route.

Midtown Alliance gained approval to beautify the bridge and got permits for closures from GDOT. However, an oversight allowed Midtown Alliance to put some of these closures in place before PM drive ended - in the six o’clock hour. This caused 20-30 minute delays on Peachtree/northbound. And when I reached out about it early in the year, Midtown Alliance wasn’t very apologetic or flexible about it.

Then the I-85 bridge collapsed and along with it came an edict that lane closures would be restricted until the interstate opened. After life returned to normal in mid-May when I-85 re-opened, the arch-building closures seemed to not interfere with drive times nearly as much. But the daytime closures caused big headaches, as so many businesses are crammed in that area and so many people use that Buford-Spring Connector ramp to access I-85. There was just no way around it.

Fortunately, those days are coming to an end.

“According to the contractor, barring any unforeseen circumstances, the daily lane closure should cease around Thanksgiving, if not before,” Midtown Alliance Director of Marketing and Communications Brian Carr, said. The project is almost done, but crews need to do “touch-up paint for the arches, landscaping and site cleanup. During this time, a temporary lane closure will still be used on one southbound lane or one northbound lane as necessary and removed during peak travel periods.”

Another Peachtree project will definitely improve traffic in the long run. GDOT has resurfaced Peachtree, but more importantly turned the northbound left lane between Deering and Pharr into a turn lane. This prevents the traffic-causing, unpredictable stops people used to make to turn left when it was a thru lane. The problem, however, is that with only two thru lanes on Peachtree/northbound, the aforementioned bridge lane closure leaves only one lane open during the day. That, of course, makes the backups even worse.

So why didn’t GDOT wait until the bridge project was done?

“If we’d waited for the bridge project to be done, that would have pushed Peachtree to next spring. The resurfacing was badly needed and honestly couldn’t wait,” GDOT Director of Strategic Communications Scott Higley said. And with the efficiency gained in PM drive by the new striping, GDOT feels that outweighs the extra inconvenience to those driving by middays. (Disclaimer: all of us at WSB are particularly sensitive to the Peachtree closures, as it jams our way in and out of our studios).

Several commuters told me that the re-striping on Peachtree came out of nowhere - that they had no idea lanes had changed. Some drove the wrong way in what became turn lanes. One reason this happened, is because only temporary, smaller striping was in place. Higley said that is for good reason.“Permanent striping and arrows can’t be applied until the asphalt has been down for 30 days. Signage indicating right turns only in far right lanes at Buford-Spring Connector and Deering Road have not been installed and signal timing hasn’t happened yet.”

The bottom line on these Peachtree delays is that most of both projects is done. The daily lane closures on the I-85 bridge now vacillate between northbound and southbound each day. And the striping will get better in the next couple of weeks. Both GDOT and Midtown Alliance could have communicated closures better and maybe even worked together to keep some from being concurrent. Nonetheless, we’ve sat in backups for most of 2017, so we can see a more efficient and prettier Peachtree in 2018 and years to come.

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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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