Thursday morning was ridiculous on the GA-400 corridor. As if Thursday commutes aren’t bad enough, another unforced error turned GA-400/southbound on its nose. Work crews had shut down the GA-400/southbound ramp to I-285/westbound overnight Wednesday and into Thursday morning. This is a normal occurrence in the Sandy Springs area, as workers are preparing the massive Transform I-285/GA-400 project. But when projects last late, things go sideways quickly.
GDOT allowed North Perimeter Contractors (NPC) to close the two right lanes of GA-400/sb from the North Springs MARTA Station to I-285 until 5 a.m. Thursday, along with the aforementioned GA-400/sb ramp to I-285/wb. These closures allowed crews to set bridge beams and those beam structures, of course, need concrete. GDOT said that NPC poured a drilled shaft, but the concrete for that didn’t arrive until 1:30 a.m., and when it showed up, there wasn’t enough. At this point, someone with a 30,000-foot view of the situation should have stepped in and called this off. Someone should have realized that trying to pour concrete would delay their opening the lanes, which would create traffic havoc. They did not.
NPC started pouring the concrete for the shaft at 2 a.m., and WSB’s Steve Winslow continued following the closure through the morning’s wee hours. When Smilin’ Mark McKay, Mark Arum, Veronica Harrell and I got in place for Triple Team Traffic in morning drive, we realized this closure could last past the normal 5 a.m. cutoff.
I reached out to GDOT’s 511 Traffic Management Center, the entity that informationally manages construction, traffic incidents, and HERO units and they said to expect the closures to, at very least, last until nearly 7 a.m. We immediately started getting the word out often on News 95.5/AM750 WSB, Channel 2 Action News, the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App, and Twitter, because we knew the impact would be enormous. It was.
By just past 6 a.m., McKay and the WSB Skycopter were over the backups. By the height of the closure, GA-400/southbound traffic jammed in from the Chattahoochee River. NPC finished the concrete pour and opened the ramp to I-285/wb by 6:41 a.m. The crews then hustled up GA-400 for the next 25 minutes, removing hundreds of barrels from the two right lanes all the way up to North Springs. McKay called it “The Great Barrel Toss.”
As we told commuters on all our platforms that the freeway reopened, people flocked to the surface streets. Many took Holcomb Bridge Road either west to Highway 9 or east to Highway 141. Those three arteries clogged quickly and stayed in slow motion for long after the closure. One of our Traffic Troopers called us with a 47-minute trip on Holcomb Bridge/Hwy. 140/eastbound just from Eves Road to Nesbit Ferry Road — that’s less than a mile! In the end, the surface streets saw a bigger impact from the GA-400/sb closures than GA-400/sb did. That proves the importance of listening to live reports and not solely relying on GPS devices.
This roadwork blunder brings forth two questions. Why did the work crew proceed with pouring the concrete late? And why did NPC have to block two right lanes and do so all the way back from I-285 to North Springs MARTA? GDOT said that NPC had to block those lanes, because the crews had to stage equipment in them for that concrete pour. But we didn’t see very many indications of equipment or activity in the right lanes anywhere but right at I-285. Having that capacity back could have eased the pain.
GDOT is issuing writing a Non-Compliance report to NPC for staying out past the 5 a.m. cutoff and is fining them damages. Unfortunately, the thousands of drivers ensnared in the jam will not see a penny for the time they lost.
Mistakes like last Thursday’s just spike the doubt that the public has in the state and local governments to solve Atlanta’s traffic problem. We all share responsibility, but GDOT builds the roads and the government funds transit. Humans make errors, but keeping a busy ramp and multiple lanes blocked in a rush-hour direction two hours past the cutoff point is major. Hopefully it does not happen again any time soon.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter 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.
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