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Gridlock Guy: Why I-285 flooded in the same place — twice

Twice in just the last few weeks, heavy rain and flooding has forced lane closures on a busy stretch of I-285 in Dunwoody.

On Jan. 3 and again on Jan. 11, commuters encountered a flooded I-285

“What the flood?” — or some variation thereof — was a likely reaction from commuters stuck in recent watery messes on I-285.

The pejoratives have flown twice in 2020. Heavy rain on both Friday, January 3, and during the line of severe storms on Saturday, January 11, caused heavy ponding in the four left lanes of I-285/westbound (Outer Loop) at Ashford Dunwoody Road (Exit 29). In each case, crews took a couple of hours to find and unclog the responsible drain, leading WSB Triple Team Traffic to issue our “GRIDLOCK ALERTS” for the stopped traffic back before I-85/Spaghetti Junction.

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The first flood came on the tail end of AM drive and at least one vehicle got stuck in the water. That kind of flooding one time raises eyebrows. But a second occurrence just a week and a day later connects faces and palms. And GDOT has had to wag some fingers.

“We had intense or heavy rain in a short amount of time,” GDOT’s Stephen Lively told the AJC.

“And then inadvertently the developer and their team had temporarily blocked an outfall, which was in stage construction.”

Lively is the construction lead for GDOT’s Office of Innovative Delivery. So this tasks him with making sure various developers hold up their end of the work contracts. The developer of the Transform I-285/GA-400 project is North Perimeter Contractors (NPC), and we talked about their responsibility in maintaining the roads in their project zone last week. Someone on the ground at NPC’s I-285 job in Dunwoody supposedly accidentally blocked a certain drain twice during this rainy period.

So Lively and GDOT have had to work to ensure a third mistake doesn’t happen.

“We, as an agency, met with them and stressed the importance of maintaining the travel way on I-285 and not ponding water,” Lively explained. He said GDOT’s own inspection team has surveyed the area to make sure it fits their standards.

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The other way GDOT can enforce this is to levy certain penalties or consequences spelled out in the contract. Whether those mean fines or not, Lively would not specify, because he said each situation has different factors. He did say that NPC has laid out a plan on how they would prevent that kind of flooding again.

Because the flood took up such a large space on such a critical and busy highway, GDOT sent its own crews to un-stop the drains. That job would normally fall under NPC’s scope, but Dunwoody commuters could not afford to wait longer for that smaller firm to alleviate the blockage. GDOT also puts people on the ground in potential trouble spots when they suspect bad weather, so they can assess the area and deploy crews and fixes more expediently.

On a smaller level, the flooding closure of Chamblee Dunwoody Road in Chamblee has been a fly in that city’s recent traffic ointment. That low-lying stretch of road has been submerged in water at least three different times since Monday, December 23. Each instance normally lasts multiple days. Again, the same problem occurring multiple times in a short period raises questions.

“In the first two weeks of this year, we’ve had about four-and-a-half inches of rain,” Chamblee Public Information Officer Tisa Moore told the AJC. “The intensity of that amount of rain in such a short amount of time, along with the rainfall the prior week, caused the problems on Chamblee Dunwoody Road.”

Chamblee PD has had to put up barricades on this popular cut-through between American Industrial Way and New Peachtree Road, because of the inches-deep water collected under the Peachtree Road, MARTA, and railroad overpasses.

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“We are pumping the water out so staff can safely get into the drain and place cameras there that will assess the situation,” Moore said. But Moore also said they need a drier weather period to keep the drains clear for repair.

Chamblee oversees the traffic in the area, but DeKalb County maintains the sewer system. So much like GDOT’s relationship with NPC, Chamblee has to work in concert with the county to properly fix the problem. And all parties involved in both boondoggles are hoping for a stretch of dry, preferably sunny, days to dry the puddles and take the stress off of the panting drainage systems, work crews, authorities, and motorists.

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.