Why these freak accidents are so crippling for Atlanta’s roadways

Another day, another freak accident shutting down Atlanta’s interstate system. The crash of a small plane in the northeast corner of I-285 brought traffic to a standstill for hours, reminiscent of similar situations following pedestrian deaths two times earlier this year, a suicide by a motorist on I-20 just yesterday, and assorted incidents involving various exotic animals. I’m sure I’m forgetting some other similarly bizarre situations (I’m not including Snowpocalypse here or other problems caused by Mother Nature).

I’ve been told that roughly half of the congestion in metro Atlanta is caused by one-time incidents — the aforementioned weird occurrences are the worst examples, but all-too common is the spate of traffic accidents around the area that mean a commute home can be decent one day and dreadful the next. The H.E.R.O. units have helped reduce some of the fallout from these accidents by clearing the roads more quickly, but there’s only so much that can be done with a map that looks like this:

Atlanta map

As those of us who live around here are painfully aware, there is no way besides 285 to move east-west in the near northern suburbs — i.e., the area where the plane went down today — without either dropping down 85 and coming back up 75, or vice-versa, or taking one’s chances on our over-matched arterial roads and surface streets. The same is true for people going north-south, or east-west across the middle of town, or … well, you get the idea. Not only do our interstates funnel everyone passing through town on 75, 85 or 20 through a single geographic point downtown, but there is virtually no redundancy to alleviate those routes when something shuts one or more of them down.

Compare that map to the following ones for Dallas:

Dallas map

Denver:

Denver map

And Houston:

Houston map

(NB: The maps for all four cities are on the same scale and for roughly the same-sized area.)

We compete in many ways with the other three cities. But while we hear a good bit about transit developments in those cities, only Denver has more transit trips per capita. The main way in which they whip us from an infrastructure standpoint is their far more robust highway networks. That’s a big reason why Dallas and Denver rank lower than Atlanta on one widely cited congestion index, and why Houston is about the same as us even though its population is about one-sixth larger.

More transit can play a role, but we are not going to insulate ourselves even a bit from the effects of these freak accidents, much less our daily game of car-wreck roulette, without creating some redundancy in our highway system.

There are plans out there to do just that. But while I’ve argued the new funding from this year’s transportation bill will go farther than a lot of observers contend, it won’t give us truly transformative change without the political will to direct funding to this problem even to the exclusion of other needs, as well as the political will to overcome objections to some of the proposed projects.

I wonder how many more days like this one it will take to get us there.

Reader Comments 0

102 comments
LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Kyle: "The history of this area shows NIMBYs have been much more of an obstacle than money."


Exactly this. 


It will take a governor to take the lead and a state solution. Deal is following the polls to see where they go, and the legislature keeps kicking responsibility down the road or to NIMBY locals. 

Get a governor who can take the risk of looking forward 10, 20, or 30 years instead of the next election or how he can reward buddies or donors. 


TheNewNorman
TheNewNorman

Another alternative to the outer perimeter would be:


1) I-75 Bypass - Extend I-185 north along US27 to Rome then GA 53 and connect to I-75 near Calhoun.  Then extend I-185 south along GA520 upgrading it to limited access (it's currently a 4 lane divided highway with some limited access through Ft. Benning and around Albany).  This would take all the truck traffic and florida holiday traffic off of I-75.   You could toll the new section of I-185 (keep the current I-185 toll-free)


2) I-75/I-85 Eastside Connector - Upgrade US129 from I-75 in Macon to Athens and either GA15 from Athens to I-85 in Commerce or US29/GA17 to I-85 near Lavonia.  


3)  I-20 Bypass - I-14 is already planned from Augusta thru Macon and Columbus to Montgomery. And there are plans to extend I-85 from Montgomery to I-20 along US80.  


4)  I-75/I-85 Northside Connector - Build the Northern Arc. Either from near I-575/I-75 to the I-85/GA 316 or I-85/I-985 interchanges.  Or Along GA20 from I-75 in Acworth to I-85 in Buford.  


(#2 & #3 together will complete an I-85 bypass)


With all 4 of these projects, you get an outer-outer perimeter and all the trucks and people just passing through Atlanta would have an alternate route.  This will take a large volume of traffic off Atlanta roads and It'll also benefit several of our 2nd tier cities. All of these could (and should) be tolled.

Benito El Rey
Benito El Rey

@TheNewNorman They are talking about your 185 extension idea.  But to give trucks from the port of Savannah a better route.  So they will probably make 16  three lanes each way, and add limited access from Macon towards Lagrange.  And then extend 185 up West of Atlanta.  But that's rolled into expanding the port and helping with the container trucks.  Which I bet a lot of truck that aren't going to Savannah would use it too.


If nothing else, I'm sure it would make the truckers happy.  they hate enough of the idiots cutting them off.

darnedcomputer
darnedcomputer

Two things would solve it:

1 - outer loop

2 - more lanes at interstate interchanges


Now it's up to the politicians to have the guts to do it and the people to realize all the money we're spending on gas sitting or creeping in traffic would go a long way toward solving the problem.

flfenn
flfenn

I've driven on Houston's roads, and that outer loop makes all the difference, plus it is not limited access like an interstate, more like a state highway with a few traffic lights sprinkled around at major intersections.  Granted, the flatter geography of Houston makes it much easier to build such roads.  The GA DOT has plans for both an Outer Loop AND a connector for GA 400 to I-675.  But, those plans both cut through well-established neighborhoods and well-entrenched suburban sprawl.  Cutting new roads is always controversial.  Maybe the 'Northsiders' will cave and allow that part of the Outer Loop to finally be built.  There is a compromise and that is to make Hwy 20 a limited access road, building bridges over intersections like PIB does.


Great map comparisons!

NightWatcher
NightWatcher

One of the MAJOR blunders we have, and which cannot be fixed, is how I-20 and 75/85 all converge downtown.  If you had to pick the WORST possible place to put this interchange, that would be the spot.  Ah well, they needed something to look at outside the GDOT offices, or at least that's what I always heard. 


Of course, what is there is very poorly thought out and basically guaranteed to cause jams.  For example going south through the city, it's usually OK until about Civic Center and then bogs down.  Why?  Everybody trying to get to I-20 merges toward the right, while TONS of incoming traffic from Tech, Freedom parkway, International Blvd, and Edgewood is all trying to merely get on the highway and most of them need to merge left.    These two streams of traffic collide literally and figuratively, and the result is awful backup from Civic Center to the Grady Curve.   EVERY DAY, even on weekends.  And any time the Braves are playing, forget it. 


It would have been so much better to put the I-20 ramps on the left side of the road -yes it breaks HOV but moving the exits to the left would be such an improvement, we would not need HOV at all.    The only other options are to do something to separate all that I-20 traffic from the people who just passing through.  And THOSE people could help a lot if they'd merge left as much as they can through town.  Stay the heck out of the right lanes unless you need to exit.   Nobody does this. 


Moving the Braves will help a little, but they only play SO many home games anyway and traffic is still bad most of the time.

AbeFroman
AbeFroman

Yep, Let's ride MARTA. 
Let's go through a ride on MARTA.

Get up at 4am....Leave house by 5:30am to make it to the Kensington station by 6:15am.
If youre on time you can catch the 6:10, 6:20, or if youre late the 6:30.  Go to the center of downtown at 5 points, change trains at around 7:10am and if youre lucky you can make it to North Springs by 7:45.

OR I can leave my house at 5:30am and make it to the parking lot at work by 6:20


NightWatcher
NightWatcher

@AbeFroman Great example.    For me, I could walk to a train station 10 minute's walk away or drive 5 min, and wait for a train.  This could be as much as 15 minutes.  So we are at either 25 minutes or 20.   There won't be any seats by this point so I will have to stand for the next 20 minutes as the train heads into town.  We're at 40 or 45 minutes so far.   Luckily there is a train station next to where I work but it takes about five minutes to get up the stairs from there.   So 45 or 50 minutes do far.


OR I can drive.   It can take as little as 15 minutes if 75/85 are flowing.  Or 40 minutes tops by surface streets. Much the same as Marta.  But I get to SIT the whole time, drink coffee, whatever, and then I have my car there at work, I can stay as late as I want, and when I want to go home, my trip back is always 15 min.  Faster than the train AND I get to sit down. 


Look, I commuted from the same home to a job in Doraville for two years.  The train worked because that is a long haul and I could sleep most of the way.  Loved it.   But that trip took an hour and back then the trains were on a 6-minute headway.  Never had to wait much.  Train 156 was my ride every day.   


But one day I drove it.  Leaving at the same time, I got to work a full half an hour early.   Never looked back at that train. 

RobertGrunwald
RobertGrunwald

Wow  I just want to say this why is that  after twenty years  of living in the Atlanta 2015 we are now see that so far behind other  cites as far infrastructure is so inadequate for the present means. That so far down the rabbit  hole  that i not even funny anymore.  I have lived in Atlanta area since 1996 and i have done my time on  the Atlanta highways for 20 years fo work from Norcross to  College Park to Hariam Ga.. I work for major  Trucking company here Atlanta have pickups in every part Metro  Atlanta.  There have been plans on the books since 1997 and studies done for Rapid trainsit since 2003 to  put high speed rail from Chattanooga to Harts-field Jackson . Nothing done almost 20 years.  Yet now we spending 840 million  new how lanes reduce traffic. 


How is the in the town that major hub for freight in the southeast   still has one exit ramp i 20 west  that backup 285west every night yet we spend 840m on hot lanes.  Here is the other issue we are spending 2.4billon dollars on two  stadiums for our sport teams. With us putting the new Braves Stadium on 1/75/285 Junction. We yet hear how we going  handle additional  30,000 cars during baseball season 2017  during rush hour when the night games our on at 19:.00. .We all know that know traffic on 75 north at 15:00 20:00 or more like parking lot.   Enough talk time put solutions in place.  Here the link for the hi speed rail that was proposed 13 years ago 

https://www.fra.dot.gov/eLib/Details/L01483

http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/business/aroundregion/story/2011/sep/28/atlanta-finally-on-board-rail-plan/60096/

http://saportareport.com/creating-a-trail-of-prosperity-with-high-speed-rail-between-atlanta-and-savannah/

http://saportareport.com/georgia-losing-millions-of-dollars-by-not-moving-on-commuter-rail/

http://www.dot.ga.gov/IS/Rail/AtlantatoChattanooga#tab-2   this last link show t he project on been on the books  for awhile  if look main line  it has stoop in  Cumblerand  area  Gee what are building there  now. 


I  just want to say  it take me 1:45 to go 37 miles to one day starting at 7am .  I have to leave my house at 5:30 am just to be work by  8am . To all the Fiscal who say that rail not good . They why most major companies are moving their Hq near  Marta. 

Dr Stephen A Ragusea
Dr Stephen A Ragusea

Sorry, I disagree.  The answer is not paving paradise to put up a parking lot.  The answer is to have smaller towns with fewer roads along with the fewer people that must follow Zero Population Growth.

Smokeyone
Smokeyone

@eTalker If telecommuting could reach critical mass in a high tech city like Atlanta it could have a transformative effect on the need for new roads.

bu2
bu2

@Smokeyone @eTalker 

There's already about 7% according to USA Today a few years back.  Atlanta is high for major cities.  Imagine how much worse it could be if those 7% were going in.

dreema
dreema

@eTalker  I am fortunate to telecommute. Since most of my co-workers are in other cities anyway, there's no difference (to them) in where I sit. I am much more productive without the distractions of cubicle life--not to mention the HUGE advantages of not having to commute.

Benito El Rey
Benito El Rey

All the people that only whine about the lack of MARTA are missing the point.  We need everything.  And a huge problem is how poorly several intersections were originally designed.  Look at how much money we are going to have to spend to completely rework the 400/285 interchange.  Which is a mess and absolutely needs it.  Also, think about this, the Perimeter area has more MARTA stations than Midtown.  How in the world does that make sense?  But we need more roads and we do need more stations.


the point is we need more of everything and it needs to be more thought out.  But there are some serious challenges aside from politics.  I support the Braves moving to Cobb County, but I'm just going to sit back and watch the Braves, Cobb County and the DOT deal with the obstacle of the Chattahoochee.  There is only so much you can do.  Hopefully, Cobb County can work something out to get MARTA to run up to the stadium, even if that's as far as it goes.  


I think MARTA needs to abandon this Connect 400 thing and really needs to focus only on getting Rail into Clayton county.  Also, the should add a commuter station like North Springs somewhere close to 675 in Clayton County.  I know the county line is right there.  only so much you can do for that particular interchange.

C. Diff
C. Diff

Designed back in the day by 'good ol' boys,' now managed by minorities and politicians, and hamstrung by the 'not in my backyard' gang. No road system can serve a huge metropolitan area under those constraints.

LinZoo
LinZoo

@RetiredParamedic I was with you except for the "managed by minorities" thing, as I'm not sure why the skin color of the management would be a "constraint."

Dawgysrule
Dawgysrule

The one traffic problem is several problems added together.  After driving in Atlanta traffic for 20 + years you have to ask yourself these questions.  First, setting in Ga Techs back yard with some of the brightest engineers in the world, how did we end up with so many crossover sections of our interstates?  i.e. 75/85 north out of downtown.  To go Northwest on 75 you have to be on the right side to essentially go left, to go Northeast on 85, you have to be in the left lanes to essentially go right.  This makes absolutley no sense.  Constant crossover of traffic at that junction. There are many more in the Atlanta area just like this.  Second, how do you stop the stigma of riding MARTA?  You hear "its full of crime" (which it may be, so stop it!), "its stops are not in good places" (from experience this is true, so fix it!), "its only for poor people" (again, market it better!).  Last, the ultimate problem.  Why do so many people come inside the parimeter to work everyday, that live 30, 40, 50, or 60+ miles outside of Atlanta?  (beyond the obvious, I get it, paycheck)  What kind of incentives are we offering people to move into Atlanta or closer?  High crime rate?  Bad schools?  Worst mis-managment of government than the "burbs"?  Un-affordable housing?  Fix these issues and people will move!     

Benito El Rey
Benito El Rey

@Dawgysrule People work all over Atlanta, and the Perimeter market is growing.  It's not just ITP.  MARTA's stop are in good places.  Anyone that says otherwise is a fool.  MARTA's problem is it has too few stations.  I think they hit the 'Best' places for MARTA stations, but there are many other great spots for mass-transit.  That's the problem.  Like the parking lobby blocking MARTA at Turner Field.  That was a station that would get heavy use 81 days per year.  The other days, all those parking spaces could be used for Commuters.  alas, people wanted the easy dollar.


bu2
bu2

@Dawgysrule 

I don't know if our traffic engineers come from Georgia Tech or Auburn, but we definitely need some change and bring in some people from states that do these things better.

drewK
drewK

I don't think Atlanta, or Georgia for that matter, will ever be cutting-edge when it comes to progressive thinking - on any issue. When you have a bunch of sheltered, white guys in office who like things "the Southern Way" then there is no escape. And to even the race card out, every Atlanta Mayor since I've lived here the past 20 years has only been interested in doing what 'looks' good. Not what needs to be done. Can you tell I'm looking to move from Atlanta? I hope so!

atlfalconno1fan
atlfalconno1fan

@drewK you and me both buddy...race,political climate and the way of thinking here way to far behind..race its always on the table here in the so called new south city called Atlanta..and way,way to many 2 lane roads with unschronized lights add to the frusteration....2 yrs till retirement...Seattle baby i,m coming!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

MissDaisyCook
MissDaisyCook

My thoughts are that it is the "investigation" that cripples traffic more than the incident itself.  Once the fire was out, and determined that there were no survivors, the wreckage could have been cleared in a matter of minutes.  

Question-who determines the extent of a highway investigation; should there be a balance between doing an investigation and getting traffic moving again?  Certainly if there are persons injured or trapped that is #1, but after medical attention is finished, an investigation should not be the absolute second priority, but getting traffic flowing again.  

Ralph-43
Ralph-43

Kyle - looks like most are on the same page.  A plane crash, a pedestrian run down, multiple rear-enders - these are tragedies.  A delay in your commute is not.  Get a life.  Also - do some work to improve MARTA.  No more freeways, no more pollution, no more heat, no more commuter anxiety and stress. Do some reading.  

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Ralph-43

No more heat?!

So improving MARTA will reduce our temps in summer?

Do some work on your imbecilic thinking--and yes, get a life.

RobertGrunwald
RobertGrunwald

@Ralph-43 I agree  Ralf  in the last  65 years we have major issues that literaly stopped atlanta. Here good idea how bad  in atlatna why does every new station start moring news at 4:30 because yhou 4 earlier to go work  at 4:30 just to make on time.  We all know that on the Nrothen 75 south to city you be on the raad by 6:15 our your are done . Yes i voted on the 2012 splost  i saw the need . Yet three was no plan B  3 years latter  we plan  not good even then that. 

Renteroo
Renteroo

Hey, I got a great idea for our city - why don't we spend a few billion more on another football stadium AND another baseball stadium. And let's pretend we're going to do something about transportation infrastructure while we're building those stadiums. That'll do it!

Benito El Rey
Benito El Rey

@Wena Mow Masipa How Honestly, moving the Braves to Cobb County will help the Connector.  Traffic there is bad enough without the Braves games.

kenstallings
kenstallings

In the early nineties there was a serious effort to build an outer loop of interstate, but after years of trying to get it done, it was defeated.  Those with the foresight to see a few decades into the future well knew what that defeat meant but those who wanted to defeat it were jubilant.


Sadly, they likely still are -- perhaps such people draw a sick satisfaction out of seeing others suffer.


All that needs to happen is to have decisive leadership who puts the needs of the public ahead of special interests and build that outer loop.  It should span out five miles further in radius than I-285.  Had it been started way back when the issue was put on ballot, it would have been completed years back.  Those who knew the situation realized Atlanta would pay a severe price and we have.

M1967
M1967

Name one city with 5-6 million people that has GOOD traffic conditions.  Nope, you can't.  Traffic congestion comes with population.  Not one city has figured it out. Why should we expect we can?  Even the cities with big transit and big freeway networks still are mired in congestion.

Smokeyone
Smokeyone

@M1967 I have spent some time in Houston and even with their redundant expressway network traffic still sucks and Houston has worse mass transit than Atlanta.

bu2
bu2

@Smokeyone @M1967 

Its traffic isn't as bad as Atlanta.  Neither is Dallas.  I've lived in all 3.


And both scored higher on mass transit getting people to their jobs than Atlanta.  Atlanta ranked something like 93 of 100.  Neither Houston or Dallas did particularly well, but both were better than Atlanta.  Their road networks allow buses to actually get you there the same day.  With Atlanta, if you aren't on MARTA and have a job on MARTA, it just takes too long.  Houston doesn't have much rail, but they have extensive park-n-ride and express buses that work pretty well. 

atlfalconno1fan
atlfalconno1fan

as long as Atlanta continue to elect southern yahoo,s to office here it will continue to be a southern wannabe or better known as  a jackson ,mississippi on steriods Atlanta nor Georgia has a vision nor a plan for the future its also time to elect young minds to office instead of old southern white males remincing about the 1950,s and wanna turn the clock back to that era..jason carter would have been a great start or someone with a fresh mind and different approach atlanta hwy system is terribly outdated and poorly planned  

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@atlfalconno1fan That's funny, because Jason Carter largely avoided the topic of transportation and talked about spending $1B more not on that -- as legislators voted to do this year -- but on education, which already consumes more than half the budget.

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

Those cities especially in Texas have invested from the start in the road network....for instance Houston has the beltway 8 which is a second 285 which is tolled meanwhile our legislators are too chicken**** to be grown ups and tell the voters that this isn't free....Dallas benefits from the unique nature of having Ft Worth in near proximity.....we have to invest in our arterial network and we must be real with our voters about what that actually means

bu2
bu2

@ATLAquarius 

Houston is nearly halfway done on their tolled Grand Parkway, which is their 3rd loop.  Dallas has the tolled George Bush Parkway (effectively their 3rd loop although their inner Loop 12 is only part freeway) on the north side outside their I-635 and is extending on the east and planning a southern section.

Smokeyone
Smokeyone

@ATLAquarius Dallas and especially Houston have an advantage with topography that makes freeways somewhat less expensive to build than Atlanta with its hills and extensive forest cover.

Scamwatcher
Scamwatcher

Just thank our present and past worthless , cowardly political hacks who would never raise gas taxes a penny because they were afraid they would lose votes from the freeloading cheapskates who complain about taxes and potholes but want someone else to,pay.

NCRob
NCRob

 I remember watching the local news the day the Outer Perimeter was shot down, some 20+ yrs. ago.  I believe they had it all sown up, except some last second greedy guy held out for too much money (no eminent domain in those days), ...and the whole thing fell through.  


I thought to myself, "wow, now all the cars/trucks are gonna keep coming from NW to SE, or NE to SW, there's no where else for them to go.".  Epic bad idea.  And now we are reaping the consequences from that decision.

Buttercup23
Buttercup23

When you let country bumpkins be in charge of transportation, don't expect more than cow paths where freeways should be.  We need rapid transit going NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, WEST going from the top of ATL area, down to Macon or Senoia..  We will only be growing in the future, the roads we have now are NOT going to cut it..

The roads we have are in terrible condition, pot holes, huge holes, the state of GA. roads, expressways, state roads, are a disgrace!  All the roads in this state have been neglected for the last 13 or so years, now it's time to pay the piper..  Taxes are going to have to be raised to fund our roads.  We can't depend on the Fed money anymore because corporations and the billionaires are no longer paying their fair share of taxes, in fact they are only paying about a third of what they use to pay.  That leave the rest of us to pick up their share..hows that working out for all of the people!!!!

TheRealJDW
TheRealJDW

Yep we got a mess...but look at those really low taxes.

It did not have to be this way and does not have to in the future. All it takes is more foresight than throwing $800 million or so a year at a $1.5 billion a year problem.

TheRealJDW
TheRealJDW

Low taxes or low spending take your pick they are part and parcel of the same issue. Our Representatives have priortized low taxes over fixing our transportation and other issues since 2002. Did it again in the most recent session and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It is a simple choice spend some money and fix the issue or wallow in it. They have consistently chosen the latter.

MHSmith
MHSmith

@TheRealJDW



You really think this "mess" is caused by low taxes?


The next time something like the Northern Arc is proposed and all the NIMBYs' gather around the local news cameras and the news papers reporters screaming... Not in my back yard! My property value my property value!

Then when they all lawyer up filing lawsuits for a piece of legal lotto pie... Throw in the opposing politicians looking for an  issue to beat their opponents up on with election time just around the corner ...

Remind us again how projects that can offer real relief to traffic congestion and lack of alternative routes were stopped dead in their tracks because,  we have those really low taxes. 


Taxes are the tip of the iceberg compared to the above mentioned.

MHSmith
MHSmith

@Kyle_Wingfield @TheRealJDW


Thanks Kyle and my apologies. When I read JDW's " LOAD OF HOOEY"... I'll admit to shooting from the hip.  It is just so outrageous to blame low taxes as the cause of major projects like the Northern Arc's failure . 


Too many of us have been around long enough to KNOW better than to let that LIE go unchallenged.


What is strikingly strange though is how you and I have publicly put our stamps of approve to a vehicle mileage tax  or a TOLL on every inch a vehicle travels.


Where are the usual resident "social justice libs" always on your blog  supporting the passage of the VMT, if they are  soo concerned about low taxes. 


Ah silence is truly golden.  







DubWeb
DubWeb

isn't someone going to blame General Sherman??

bendedknee
bendedknee

1.45 billion in transportation funds from the Feds to Georgia in 2013 with matching state funds ; Almost none this year if tea heads and GOP has its way and follow Grover's rules on raising federal gas taxes. So 1 billion dollars with a significan portion coming from local taxes will really solve that shortage? Is that tea head math?