Gridlock Guy: Predictions for an ease into back-to-school season were off

A few weeks ago in this very column I warned commuters about the forthcoming “back-to-school” traffic. I predicted that while, yes, traffic was going to start getting worse, the real big back-to-school delays wouldn’t start until after Labor Day.

Have you ever taken a drink from a cup thinking it was one beverage and it turns out to be another? You know, you were expecting milk and instead got orange juice? That was me last week in the traffic center. I was expecting moderate increases on our roadways, and I was shocked to discover things were horrible. I got orange juice instead of milk.

Sure, the rainy weather had something to do with the horrible morning rush hours last week, but even when the pavement was dry, trip times, traffic jams and blood went through the roof.

Let’s take the rides on the north side for example. I anticipated trip times of about 35 minutes from Wade Green Road to Interstate 285 on Interstate 75 southbound. It turned out to be closer to 55 minutes.

Trip times down Ga. 400 from Cumming to Interstate 285 were over 60 minutes, when I thought they would top out at 45 minutes.

One morning last week, it took over 110 minutes to travel from Hamilton Mill Road to midtown on Interstate 85 southbound. That’s almost two hours to go 35 miles. As a result of the delays on Interstate 85, the HOT Express Lane rate set a new record of $7.50 to go from Old Peachtree Road to Shallowford Road.

Commuters on Interstate 20 also saw dramatic increases in delays. Rides in to town from the western suburbs were 10-15 percent slower, while trips from the eastern suburbs (Newton, Rockdale and Dekalb counties) were as bad as we’ve seen them in quite some time.

To be fair, a lot of delays on Interstate 20 on the east side could be blamed on wet pavement and an inordinate amount of crashes, but generally speaking, I didn’t think the traffic would be as bad as it was.

Not to be left out, Interstate 285 traffic also saw a marked increase. Inner loop commuters (I-285 north and east through Fulton and Cobb counties) saw trip times jump by about 10 percent. Outer loop commuters (I-285 north and west through Dekalb County) had a week they would like to forget. Even factoring in wet roads and increased incidents, it was apparent to me that delays and traffic volume were near all-time highs.

Now, if history holds, traffic will get worse after Labor Day. That’s scary.

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