Gridlock Guy: On summer driving, a melon cleanup, and a closed ramp

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Georgia?s toll revenue through the Peach Pass program is now down by an estimated $12.3 million, according to the head of the state?s road and tollway authority.

Let’s play hopscotch to cover a lot of traffic ground this week.

The summer driving pattern has arrived

As spring has turned to summer, the difference between the seasonal changes in driving patterns are not as defined. Usually the spring and fall see big booms in traffic volume, and then traffic dies down during the winter and summer holidays. Since the coronavirus essentially cancelled spring, the differences between spring and summer driving are far less. If anything, they are swinging to the inverse, as more places open in the early summer stretch and people take to the roads.

While more people are on the roads, traffic volume is still 10-20% below what volume in 2019 was at the same time. But one area that is looking very close to the "old normal" is I-75 in Henry County. Both directions have been slowing during PM drive in varying degrees trying to clear the McDonough exits, especially later in the week. As more people travel to and from Florida, these delays could only worsen. And this is all absent of any wrecks in the perilous I-75 and I-675 interchange we covered last week.

PM drive is definitely seeing more traffic delays than AM drive, with I-75/85/southbound through Downtown Atlanta, I-85/northbound leaving I-285 into Norcross, and parts of I-75/northbound and I-575/northbound northwest of town seeing the most routine backups. Still, those backups are not nearly as close to the ones pre-pandemic.

Another dog-days driving pattern is the discipline of driving through pop-up summer storms. Not only can they be intense, but they also come and go quickly. Summertime driving, particularly in the afternoons, can include driving in sunshine, then heavy rain and wind, and then back into blinding sunshine reflecting off of slippery, wet pavement. This can be extremely distracting and hazardous and has already happened several afternoons and evenings in the last couple of weeks.

A watermelon RED ALERT

Tuesday morning commuters on I-75/northbound leaving northwest Atlanta needed some thick skin. A vehicle hit a watermelon truck before 8 a.m. on I-75/northbound near Cumberland Boulevard (Exit 258), and melons cracked and spilled all over the freeway. The ensuing cleanup of the sticky pulp shut down the interstate for close to an hour, making quite the unexpected outbound jam.

An internet search on the subject unearthed multiple watermelon truck crashes on Atlanta’s roads in the last few years. 42,000 pounds of watermelons spilled onto the I-75/northbound ramp to I-285/westbound in Clayton County in 2015. And dozens of melons spilled from a truck onto the I-85/northbound ramp to I-985/northbound in Gwinnett in 2017. That cleanup also blocked that ramp for quite a while.

GA-400 ramp closed ... sort of

GDOT has closed the GA-400/northbound ramp to Abernathy Road/westbound (Exit 5B) — the ramp that traffic takes toward Sandy Springs. This is part of the redesign of that interchange into a diverging diamond interchange (DDI) as part of the larger Transform I-285/GA-400 project.

DDIs are in operation at several interchanges around Atlanta and are meant to eliminate left-hand turns across oncoming traffic. This decreases crashes and helps alleviate some delays in those busy intersections.

While this ramp has closed, motorists shouldn’t fear that they suddenly cannot go west. The 5A ramp will still be open to motorists to choose to go in both directions, instead of just eastbound. If traffic were heavier, this forcing of all traffic onto one ramp would be a bigger issue.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 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@cmg.com.