Gridlock Guy: Several commutes the I-85 bridge collapse has improved

Some commutes have gotten better after the I-85 bridge collapse. Many more have gotten worse. AJC file photo
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Some commutes have gotten better after the I-85 bridge collapse. Many more have gotten worse. AJC file photo

For all the doom and gloom the month-old I-85 bridge collapse has galvanized, there are some bright spots gleaming through the settling dust. GDOT's crew is ahead of schedule in the rebuild and may have the bridge done by mid-May. Displaced drivers are taking public transportation and MARTA has successfully stymied the parking scarcity that prevailed until last week. And companies have been forced to explore creative options for employees to work different hours or telework.

Believe it or not, a few commutes have actually improved as well.

The biggest, starkest commute improvement has been on the Downtown Connector (I-75/85). This is usually an interstate from hell - busy most hours of the day and horrendous during rush hours. But in the last month, the I-75/85/northbound delays have been almost non-existent in morning drive, since many of those commuters went through town and up I-85 and cannot take that route right now. In the afternoons, I-75/85/southbound is bad between 17th Street and I-20, but not nearly as bad as it was pre-collapse. Much of the displaced traffic from the Connector is taking I-285 and making the Perimeter 30 to 50 percent worse.

Another commute that has evaporated is the afternoon I-85/northbound ride through DeKalb and Gwinnett counties. A trip that used to begin slowing at Shallowford Road now doesn’t get heavy until after I-285. Even then, barring wrecks, I-85/northbound has not been very heavy through Gwinnett. Part of that reason is because I-285 is so bad, it seems to filter the traffic getting to I-85. The I-285 jams have also had the same effect on I-75/northbound and GA-400/northbound into the northern suburbs.

The tradeoff here has been that the I-285 delays have jammed the right lanes inbound from the northern suburbs in evening drive. I-85/southbound’s two right lanes are dead-stopped between Jimmy Carter Boulevard and I-285 each afternoon drive. This right lane stoppage also hurts the morning commute on these roads. But, overall, the outbound rides on I-75, GA-400, and I-85 are much better every PM drive.

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Gov. Nathan Deal said the bridge collapse site would be ready by rush hour Monday.

The bottleneck of traffic on Ponce de Leon Avenue/Scott Boulevard has held that traffic back made the Highway 78/Stone Mountain Freeway ride much better outside I-285 in afternoon drive. Highway 78 normally isn’t awful, but it definitely has gotten better between Tucker and Stone Mountain, since the I-85 collapse.

With the exception of I-75/85/northbound in the mornings, the I-85 bridge rebuild has improved the afternoon drive and not the mornings in the aforementioned areas for logical reasons. The closure hinders traffic leaving town and getting to the thoroughfares to the suburbs. The differences in AM drive are less drastic, since the closure is inside I-285 and all the traffic has to get there first, before it can detour.

Our next big challenge will be trying to gauge how traffic re-adjusts, once I-85 re-opens. Will some people continue to use MARTA or telework? Will some decide that they prefer the gridlock on I-285 than that of I-75/85? One thing we know for sure is that the rides on the Buford-Spring Connector, Peachtree, Piedmont, and other roads around the bridge rebuild will get much, much better. That cannot happen soon enough.

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