School’s back — and so’s the traffic on some metro Atlanta roads

Metro Atlanta schools are back in session beginning this week. The Georgia Department of Transportation says commute times get worse on some local roads during the school year, but not necessarily on the region’s highways.
Metro Atlanta schools are back in session beginning this week. The Georgia Department of Transportation says commute times get worse on some local roads during the school year, but not necessarily on the region’s highways.

With summer winding down, many metro Atlanta commuters are dreading the traffic that comes when school resumes and yellow buses take to local roads.

Police have some advice: Slow down, chill out and give yourself extra time.

Many areas around schools see a decrease in the traffic during the summer, with commute times dropping as much as 37 percent.

The back-to-school routine is not always a smooth adjustment for kids or their parents.

But with school resuming this week in some districts, the extra time spent on local roads is about to put an end to many commuters' summer reprieve.

You don’t have to tell Dean Doby, who often sits in traffic near South Gwinnett High School in Snellville.

“I live a mile down the road,” Doby said. “It’ll take me sometimes 25 minutes to get down that road.”

A Georgia Department of Transportation analysis found traffic on most metro Atlanta highways is about the same year-round. But complaining about back-to-school traffic is favorite pastime of Atlanta commuters this time of year. Cobb, Henry and Rockdale County schools resume Monday. Atlanta, Decatur and Cherokee County schools follow on Tuesday. The rest of the region's schools open over the next week.

The beginning of the school year brings hundreds of buses to local roads, stopping regularly to pick up and drop off children. It also brings thousands of parents driving to and from school with their kids.

Not surprisingly, that affects traffic around those schools. In a report provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, GDOT compared average commute times near various schools from January through May of 2016 to June and July that same year.

The report found morning commute times around the schools dropped off anywhere from 2 to 37 percent during the summer. Afternoon commutes declined much less or were unchanged.

For example, morning commute times fell 25 percent on State Bridge Road near Johns Creek High and State Bridge Crossing Elementary. They fell 37 percent on U.S. 78 near Britt Elementary and South Gwinnett High School.

The reductions made just a few minutes’ difference or less. It took about eight minutes to drive U.S. 78 near South Gwinnett during the school year, for instance, and about five minutes during the summer, GDOT found. But that doesn’t count traffic delays on side roads.

Doby said traffic on Skyland Drive next to South Gwinnett backs up because of school buses and parents dropping off their children. He called traffic in the area a “nightmare.”

Snellville Resident Kevin Johnson agreed.

“Traffic (on U.S. 78) is bad, man,” Johnson said. “It’s not like downtown. But it’s getting there.”

GDOT found traffic volumes hardly changed on most metro Atlanta interstates during the summer. One exception: Traffic volumes did decrease somewhat on southbound Ga. 400 from Holcomb Bridge Road to I-285.

Heavier traffic in some areas isn’t the only reason commutes may get longer during the school year. GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale said many parents drive more, leading to longer commutes.

“In summer, you go from your home to work,” Dale said. “During the school year, you go from home to school to drop off the kids and then to work.

“It’s not that there’s more people on the roads (during the school year),” she said. “They’re just going to different places.”

Gwinnett County Police Cpl. Michele Pihera said a commute that might take 30 minutes in the summer can take 45 minutes or more during the school year. She said people should factor in the extra time when planning their trips.

Sgt. Dana Pierce of the Cobb County Police Department said the department will enforce school zone speed limits and will be watching for drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses. He also urged motorists to slow down and give themselves more time to get where they’re going.

Doby tries to take that advice. A plumber, he drives a thousand miles a week to jobs around metro Atlanta. When stuck in traffic, he turns on his stereo and tries to relax.

“It’s just part of life,” he said. “You just deal with it.”


The AJC's David Wickert keeps you updated on the latest in what's happening with transportation in metro Atlanta and Georgia. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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