AJC reporter David Wickert asked readers how they would solve Atlanta's traffic mess if given a magic wand. Most who responded said mass transit needs to be expanded, not just to outlying counties but also throughout the state. One reader was quite blunt with her solution: "Get your butt on a bus." More than a few people would create tunnels so drivers who don't need to stop in Atlanta can avoid the area. One reader would better enforce the HOT lanes. Two words: "Ziplines everywhere!"

Gridlock Guy: Why the West Freeway ride keeps getting worse

There is no question that traffic around all of Metro Atlanta, for the most part, is getting worse. The rise in population both I.T.P. and O.T.P., plus a strong employment market, make travel at most hours now a tedious affair. Triple Team Traffic at 95.5 WSB has noticed some big ripples on the West Freeway continuum, especially as we are now in the full swing of the fall semester.

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Smilin’ Mark McKay, our morning drive traffic anchor in the WSB Skycopter, and I discussed this trend of increasing delays and wrecks on our most recent WSB Traffic Podcast. I wanted to seek out an official to see if law enforcement is seeing what we are seeing on I-20 through Douglas, Cobb, and Fulton counties. They do and they don’t.

This wreck I-20/westbound west of Lee Road was one of several problems in this sunny construction zone last Thursday afternoon.
Photo: Doug Turnbull, WSB Skycopter

“Believe it or not, it doesn’t seem as if there are more crashes, as there is more volume,” Georgia State Patrol Information Officer Lt. Stephanie Stallings told the AJC. “When there is a crash, that volume seems to back up more.

That is most certainly true — the more drivers there are on a road, the greater any reaction to a problem, no matter how small, will be.

“We have a lot of rubberneckers,” Stallings said. “And that makes it difficult. The crashes on the shoulder, those cause a distraction. So you may have some residual crashes from someone looking left or right to see what’s going on. And then they run into the rear end of someone.”

In NASCAR, the saying goes “cautions breed more cautions.” When the racecars get bunched together after a wreck, the ensuing laps up to speed are likely to cause more wrecks. The same holds true in traffic, especially as more and more cars take to the road.

Changes in conditions work just as crashes do. The paving project all along I-20 in Douglas County creates both unexpected slow zones when lanes are blocked and slight distractions with idle equipment and lane shifts when work subsides. A homeostatic disruption of any kind increases the likelihood of delays, thus the chances for more wrecks. And then the cycle feeds itself.

Then there are problems with the crashes themselves.

“A lot of folks don’t want to move their crash out of the roadway,” Stallings said, referring to Georgia’s Steer It and Clear It Law, which requires movable vehicles in wrecks to get to a shoulder or a parking lot. Stallings states that drivers not moving their vehicles is the biggest obstacle GSP faces in trying to clear and manage crashes and delays. She also urged people to try to stay in their vehicles after a wreck, by the way. There is simply no way to control passersby, and an errant driver can easily make someone’s bad day much worse.

I-20 in the western suburbs is arguably more subject than any commute to sunshine delays. The morning commute into Downtown Atlanta goes directly into the sunshine and the same is true on the way home. Sunshine delays do affect I-285 in Sandy Springs and parts of I-75 and I-85, but I-20 sees those sun-ray delays the most directly.

“A lot of folks are blinded by the sun and for whatever reason they don’t use sunglasses or the visor that can help them out. A lot of times sun glare can be a contributing factor to those delays occurring,” Stallings said.

At the height of morning drive, I-20/eastbound can be slow the whole way from Thornton Road (Exit 44) in Lithia Springs past MLK Jr. Drive (Exit 53) in west Atlanta. In the afternoon, I-20/westbound often jams just west of I-75/85 (Exit 57) past Fulton Industrial (Exit 49), then again after Six Flags (Exit 46) to near Lee Road (Exit 41). Wrecks or not, the delays keep growing with time.

Stallings, who has commuted and worked along this stretch of I-20 for years, essentially has boiled this daily I-20 jam down to a few points of personal responsibility. We, as commuters, can help the situation by steering and clearing our wrecks, driving with full focus so as not to be surprised by changes in conditions, and wearing sunglasses. And driving while armed with the up-to-date information from our team of experts on 95.5 WSB and the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App will also help eliminate some surprise, or at least tell you of the forthcoming grind. 

» RELATED: Gridlock Guy: My ultimate pet peeve behind the wheel

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@coxinc.com.

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