Traffic backs up along southbound Piedmont Road as construction crews clear debris on Sunday. Demolition is underway on the section of I-85 that collapsed in a fire Thursday evening. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)
Photo: David Barnes
Photo: David Barnes

Your Monday commute: How to get around the I-85 bridge collapse

The good news: Spring break for all metro Atlanta public schools begins Monday. So expect fewer cars on the road than on a typical Monday morning.

The bad news: A portion of I-85 will still be closed because of Thursday’s fire and bridge collapse. And you have to get to work.

Atlanta I-85 collapse map: Detours, road closures, alternative routes

So if your commute normally takes you on I-85, what’s the best way to go? And what else might factor into your decision?

Here’s what you need to know.

UPDATE: I-20 lanes downtown reopen after crash, fire

Companies like Georgia Power and Equifax urged employees on Friday to work from home after the I-85 collapse. If your job can be done remotely, consider asking your employer whether you can skip the commute altogether.

Passengers ride the Red Line train at the North Springs MARTA Station on Friday, March 31. Since the I-85 bridge fire Thursday, there will be plenty of new MARTA riders, as commuters try to find new ways to get to work and elsewhere. DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

MARTA

If your destination is near a MARTA station, taking the train might be your quickest option to get to the office. MARTA trains run from 5 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. during the week, and arrive every 10 minutes during peak commuting times.

MARTA buses run from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., though the frequency varies. MARTA buses may get stuck in traffic, so you may still want to allow extra time to reach your destination.

How to take MARTA: a guide for first-time riders

It costs $2.50 to ride MARTA each direction. Riders can purchase a one-ride pass or a day pass at vending machines in MARTA stations. One-use Breeze tickets can be loaded with a fare only once and expire after 90 days. Breeze cards can be reloaded multiple times. If you have a blue Breeze card, though, you’ll need to buy a new silver one. While you can use rides on your blue Breeze card through midsummer, you can no longer add more rides to it (the switch from blue card to silver card came on March 31).

Driving

If you’re sure you want to take to the road, here are the best ways to do it. And “best” is relative. Allow more time to get where you need to go. On Monday, add a lot more time. It’ll give you a chance to see how bad things are and make some plans for the coming days or weeks.

Going south: This is where it gets tricky, particularly if you usually drive down I-85 from Gwinnett or DeKalb. 

So if you’re driving south on I-85 inside the Perimeter, you’ll be diverted to northbound Ga. 400. This is the only way to go, and it’s obviously not the right direction for you. So don’t go inside I-285. Exit onto I-285 from I-85 instead. Then, depending on where you want to go, either head south toward I-20 or west toward I-75.

The same strategy applies if you’re traveling down Ga. 400 from the northside. Exit at the Perimeter Highway and head west for I-75. Then go south toward downtown.

Bear in mind that the Downtown Connector may be a parking lot by 6:30, and the various approaches to it — I-20, I-75 and I-85 from the south — may back up as a result.

Going north: The Buford Highway exit (also known as Exit 86, the Buford-Spring Connector, and Ga. 13) is the first exit on I-85 north of the Downtown Connector split.

You may now go north on I-85 from downtown, but you’ll be forced to exit at the Buford-Spring Connector. Then follow that connector north toward Sidney Marcus Boulevard, where you’ll be directed to the entrance to I-85 North.

If you’re going up the Buford-Spring Connector with the intention of turning left onto Sidney Marcus (toward Ga. 400 and Piedmont), you’re in for a wait. Traffic coming down Buford Highway from the opposite direction is being diverted onto Sidney Marcus — Buford Highway beyond that point is closed. For those driving north up the Buford-Spring Connector to Sidney Marcus, get ready for a left turn onto a short stretch of very congested road.

The following closures are in place, according to the Atlanta Police Department:

  • Northbound Piedmont Road at Lambert Drive.
  • Southbound Piedmont at Buford Connector.
  • Access to I-85 North off of Piedmont Circle.
  • Lenox Road at Ga. 400 southbound.
  • Intersection of Lambert Drive and Manchester Street.
  • There is no access from Sidney Marcus onto Buford Highway going south.

Use your favorite wayfinding app to try to avoid some of the other travelers. And bear in mind that major surface streets — thoroughfares like Briarcliff Road, Shallowford Road, Clairmont Road and Buford Highway — likely will be under greater pressure Monday as drivers use them as alternate routes.

Other transit

Do you normally ride Georgia Regional Transportation Authority buses? Expect delays. The agency encourages riders to take the buses to MARTA stations, if they need to go anywhere.

The impacted bus routes will go via I-285 and I-20. They are routes 411, 412, 413, 414 and 416. Additionally, routes 400 and 401 will only drop-off and pick-up customers at the North Springs MARTA station.

Coaches will connect the Hamilton Mill and Sugarloaf Mills Park-and-Rides to the Doraville and Chamblee MARTA stations.

In Gwinnett, buses will take I-85 South to I-285 South to I-20 West to get downtown. They’ll reverse directions to get to Gwinnett. For route timings, see www.gctransit.com or call 770-822-5010.

Cobb is not making any changes to its routes but will have extra buses and supervisors in Midtown, and will make adjustments as needed.

Meteorologist Katie Walls has your Sunday afternoon weather forecast.

Other factors

All the major school districts in the metro area are on spring break this week — so if your drive isn’t as bad as you expected it to be, you can probably thank all those buses and teenagers that aren’t on the road.

However, there are a few things that may make up for that reprieve in terms of traffic nightmares.

First of all, the weather. Thunderstorms are forecast both Monday and Wednesday, and they’re almost guaranteed to hit Monday during the evening commute. Wednesday, they could hit while you’re going to work, then again on the way home. Rain always makes traffic worse.

Then there are the road closures. In addition to I-85, there will be lane closures overnight and into the morning on several highways, including the top-end Perimeter, which many drivers will use as a detour from I-85.

Closures include lanes on:

  • I-285 eastbound from Riverside Drive to east of Ashford-Dunwoody Road.
  • I-285 eastbound from Paces Ferry Road to Mt. Wilkinson Parkway.
  • The I-285 eastbound and I-75 southbound ramps to I-285 eastbound.
  • I-85 north and south from Ga. 20 to Gravel Springs Road.
  • I-75 northbound from Delk Road to South Marietta Parkway.
  • I-75 northbound from Windy Ridge Parkway to Windy Hill Road.
  • North and south from Circle 75 to Herodian Way.

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