A big idea to solve the problem posed by one of Atlanta’s big ideas

Construction continues on the Northwest Corridor managed lanes. Could a similar project help relieve the Downtown Connector? (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

Construction continues on the Northwest Corridor managed lanes. Could a similar project help relieve the Downtown Connector? (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

If for some sadistic reason you wanted to make driving through Atlanta even more miserable, a very good option would be “blot out the sun.”

That’s exactly what would happen if part of the Downtown Connector is covered up by a 14-acre deck topped with parks, new road connections and even more buildings. Commuters and passers-through would not only lament the traffic they were enduring, but know there was something approximating joy going on overhead.

I may be painting this idea — dubbed “The Stitch” because it would mend the ties between Midtown and downtown — too darkly. The rending of intown neighborhoods by I-75/85 years ago has long had ill effects, and correcting those is worthwhile (depending on the price, which started at $300 million and, as with all such projects, will surely go up).

Here, all joy and cool. Below, Atlanta's traffic nightmare gets worse -- unless something else is done. (Rendering by Jacobs)

Here, all joy and cool. Below, Atlanta’s traffic nightmare gets worse — unless something else is done. (Rendering by Jacobs)

But I frame it in terms of drivers for a reason. Whatever the dreams one might have for the space above the Connector, the fact remains we are talking about a dozen or so lanes of interstate that, for many hours of the day, are jam-packed. With the region’s population only expected to continue growing by millions in the decades to come, that problem isn’t going away.

One idea for traffic relief is to build more lanes above the Connector. Most likely, that won’t happen. But anyone who would foreclose that possibility by building something else above the interstates should propose an alternative way to move more people through the city. Low-capacity, lightly used streetcars don’t count.

Happily, I have an idea they can steal. It still involves hoisting lanes into the sky, just not above the Connector.

What I mean is a western bypass of downtown built above U.S. 41: from just before the Brookwood Interchange where I-75 merges with I-85 on the north side, all the way down to where the interstates diverge again near Cleveland Avenue.

Two lanes in each direction, built above a mostly commercial and industrial area and leaving existing east-west streets undisturbed. Very few exits, to prevent adding traffic to the area below and reserve the new expressway as a true downtown bypass. A measure of roadway redundancy in a region that doesn’t have much of that, as commuters are painfully aware each time a wreck shuts down all or most of a major artery.

Based on the cost per lane-mile of the managed lanes being built on 75 and 575, much of which are also elevated, this 10-mile road might be built for less than $900 million. Not bad, compared with that $300 million for covering three-quarters of a mile over the Connector.

Such a project would add much-needed north-south capacity through town. It would also allow for a great deal of flexibility in shaping transportation policy.

The corridor could be a preferred roadway for autonomous vehicles as they come online, separating them from most other vehicles passing through town. It could offer an additional route for transit vehicles connecting the northern suburbs with the airport.

And because the Connector will eventually need toll lanes to complete the region’s growing network of managed lanes, a western bypass would also allow the state to add them without reducing the number of “free” lanes available.

Atlanta is often drawn to big ideas like “The Stitch.” The problems such ideas create deserve big solutions of their own.

Reader Comments 0

65 comments
Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Traffic on the connector would be 50% better if morons could manage to maintain speed going around curves. Just awful, awful drivers.

SHArms
SHArms

Interesting idea Kyle, thanks for proposing. Perhaps could be seen as an extension of the Buford Connector and possibly tie in back somewhere close to Lakewood (Langford) which has connectivity to both 85 and 75.


Did you ever see the work that a Georgia Tech studio did a few years back where they provided some thinking for connector relief? Some very interesting concepts.


Also the I-20 interchange causes a lot of congestion for the connector, really no reason some of those vehicles couldn't be directed on your new route (especially the ones heading west on I-20).


I don't think a toll road on this route you're proposing would be a good idea, because you'd really want folks to use this new route if built.


Just my $.02.

youngfarm
youngfarm

If you choose not to complain about Atlanta traffic and the inevitable crashes and delays occurring hourly, then likely your workplace is quite near your home.  People with homes in Milton or Alpharetta probably should have an office close by, rather than dealing daily with a commute to Hartsfield.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Let no story on local government pass without demanding a choo-choo!

wrh7345
wrh7345

Expand MARTA! If this had happened 50 years ago our problems with traffic might be much better than they are now. It keeps getting talked about but our state continues to build more roads that do nothing to relieve traffic. The state needs to make the Georgia department of transportation a true center for transportation and build fewer roads and support the expansion of MARTA

RamonMendoza
RamonMendoza

@wrh7345 Local politicians have no power to do such a thing, and the state-level pols are mostly beholden to a constituency that doesn't want public transportation for fear that it will bring an "undesirable element" (*cough* blacks *cough* Latinos *ahem*) to their towns.

RobertCoh
RobertCoh

There has been talk of  double-decking the expressway for at least 50 years.

christoATL
christoATL

Atlanta is no different than any other major city. Try driving in DC, Houston, Chicago, NY or LA during rush hour and you see the same thing. If you don't like traffic don't live in a major city. Stay in small towns. Otherwise live close to where you work and embrace public transportation. People want to live in these far flung suburbs when they work in the city, but then get mad and expect traffic to part so they can get to work in 20 minutes. What did you expect?

RamonMendoza
RamonMendoza

New York and Chicago both have viable public transportation and laser straight roads that help them move lots more people than Atlanta.  It's not comparable.  (Houston and Los Angeles may suffer from similar issues.)

bu22
bu22

@RamonMendoza Houston has lots of alternative routes, both freeway and arterial.  Los Angeles has 4 times as many people.  Just imagine how bad Atlanta will be when the density gets to Houston's level (75% more dense at 2979/square mile).  LA has 4 times the density (7000 per square mile vs. 1706).  Atlanta's lack of alternative routes is why one accident or gas leak or snow storm can shut virtually the whole city down.  Imagine what it will be like when they have to rebuild the connector.

bu22
bu22

@christoATL Better schools, better housing, affordable housing, less crime.  And maybe their job was in the suburbs but the company moved or they had to change jobs.  Or maybe both spouses work.  Not easy to just pick up and move.  May not even be possible if they bought just before the recession.  Their mortgage may be more than their house is worth.  The "live close to work" people just don't live in the real world.

bamakim
bamakim

After 20+ years in the suburbs, my husband and I moved into the city of Atlanta in 2013 so I would have a <3 mile commute to my job. He works from home. Prior to moving in town, we passed through Atlanta on our way to the airport, or to an occasional Braves game. 

From my current perspective, I think Atlanta should institute ZTLs similar to many larger European cities - zona a traffico limitato, or limited traffic zones. All traffic must use 285 to travel around Atlanta unless they have a permit to be inside the perimeter. Those permits could be issued to employers ITP in limited amounts to disperse as they decide, but at a rate much less than the employees they have traveling from outside the perimeter. This would force the remainder to telecommute or use public transportation.

Millennials are largely driving the population growth in urban areas. This age group wants to live in vibrant, downtown areas. Many spend little time in their cars. They are not the group clogging the connector every day. Let's address the source of that traffic - those that are passing through the city center or going to their jobs - by forcing them to use 285 to pass through, or public transportation to get to work.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Seems like a reasonable idea, although I'd set them up like the Peachpass lanes to put a price on being ITP, rather than a fixed number of permits. Some of these permits would be wasted every day and such a system would be susceptible to all the forms of waste, fraud, and abuse that government is so good at.

bu22
bu22

@bamakim Millenials live in suburbs at an even higher rate than the boomers at the same age.  Those are the actual facts despite all the media narrative to the contrary (probably because the millennials in the media tend to live in urban areas and they don't talk to anyone in the suburbs).  This is America.  Your proposal would just turn Atlanta into Detroit as all the jobs would go elsewhere.  Americans have freedom of choice.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

Atlanta is the armpit of America. You can build all the roads you want, some idiot will be there to clog them all up. You are stuck in your liberal hell state, keep on spending all your money to "improve" it. What a waste.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@IReportYouWhine I can't speak to the politics of other large cities, but there is too much corruption and cronyism in Atlanta and Dekalb County for my tastes.  Whatever happened to doing what's best for the citizens??

Bruno2
Bruno2

I'm still waiting for my new home theater system to be delivered.  I powered up to the MartinLogan Motion 60 XT speakers in the front with a ML Dynamo 1000 subwoofer due to catching a sale.  All of the reviewers rave about how great the 60s sound.  I'm still hoping VC will give me his feedback on my choice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yE79UxDu7Xc

Bruno2
Bruno2

Kyle: the fact remains we are talking about a dozen or so lanes of interstate that, for many hours of the day, are jam-packed.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I just spent 3 weeks in Lithonia prior to moving out here to the coast of GA.  From my perspective, the quality of life in Atlanta has gone down to a big fat zero due to the burgeoning traffic, with no relief in sight.  My apologies again to those of you who are still stuck on I-285.  The only viable solution is to either work from home, or move.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

@Bruno2 Totally agreed, I solved my Atlanta traffic problem by moving to Virginia Beach. I have better things to do with my life besides being stuck in a monumental traffic jam. Plus, there is the most awesome water here, oceans, lakes, you name it. 

Bruno2
Bruno2

@IReportYouWhine @Bruno2 My HS sweetheart lived there for many years.  She ended up marrying some D-head Navy contractor who treated her poorly.  I guess that was on her, though.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Given the political times we're now facing as Americans, this topic probably doesn't rise to a level of significant importance but at least Kyle, can look beyond it and comment on issues that impact Atlanta.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@SGTGrit See my comment above from the perspective of an "outsider".  I wouldn't live in Atlanta for anything at this point due to the aggressive drivers and poor air quality.

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

The property acquisition along Northside Dr aka 41 alone would probably foreclose that possibility...in retrospect 75 and 85 should never have been joined into one. Also with the Stitch you will recover tax revenues (eventually) with new development around it. Also there will be politics involved cutting through that area with an expressway...I'm curious how you'd intend to miss the AU Center (Morehouse etc) as well. Also is there no reason we can not build a second perimeter?

Bruno2
Bruno2

"Also is there no reason we can not build a second perimeter?"

@ATLAquarius They're waiting on all of the politicians' buddies to buy up the land first.  That's how things get done in the ATL.

WFTGATL
WFTGATL

What a sad perspective.  If you look at any great city the roads are not designed to facilitate how fast or easily you move people past it.

The city is the destination.  As someone that lives in Midtown and owns a samll archictural firm in Downtown I walk to work or take Marta. I have very little sympathy for those that spend their lives in cars on the highway.  Cap it off to improve the city.  It will be no longer for those on the highway than the Lincoln tunnel in NYC or the Big Dig in Boston.  If you want to pass the city use 285.

oakislandbeachboy
oakislandbeachboy

I don’t like the idea of building more roads to solve "traffic-in-the-dark", which is the way this has been presented.  The idea of an elevated roadway downtown, east, west or both to address this is, sorry, moronic.  The only thing that makes sense, while we are contemplating spending big bucks, is to tunnel it all under town…and that is if one can sell the idea of keeping the connector in the sunshine is a public imperative and the best use of resources. 


Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Yeah.  No use building a parking deck if you can't get to it because the connector has become...a parking lot!

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

Whoever said it would cost $300 million is smoking dope. They're trying to bait you with that number.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@IReportYouWhine Double and take to the next higher power.  So $300 M becomes $600 B!  Cost overruns not included!

TicTacs
TicTacs

The people who can solve the problem, don't have the problem.  

jlrhoya
jlrhoya

This is essentially going back to what downtown was originally planned to be - one I-75 interstate going through the west of town and one I-85 going through the east.  However, morons decided to merge the two.


If the two interstates were separate, people going north on I-75 would not be slowed by I-85 Buckhead traffic in the morning, people would not have to cross multiple lanes of traffic to stay on their interstates, people going south in the afternoon on I-75 could switch to I-85 north without the downtown backup, and people on I-20 switching to I-75 or I-85 could be better distributed.

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

This Idea is a good start. Though I feel 6 lanes would be better than 4.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@BuckeyeGa If 6 lanes are feasible engineering-wise without too much additional structure below, that's fine with me. I wasn't sure (I'm definitely no engineer) so I went with a more modest number.

Starik
Starik

If businesses move to the developing downtowns outside the perimeter, which seems to be happening, the connector would have much less traffic anyway.

quickworkbreak
quickworkbreak

@Starik  Except that businesses are also still moving intown--mostly around available transit

JamesBullows
JamesBullows

Well that was stupid. The Downtown Connector isn't a resort for drivers, it's a mode of transportation. Those of us who actually live in the city would like it to not just be a nice drive for people passing through, but somewhere that we can actually live, preferably without having to be stuck in the traffic of all of those who decide to live in the suburbs and exurbs. After all, we don't go up to Marietta and demand that they replace the square with an airport for our convenience.


You don't want those people who don't live in the city to have a bad view while they drive home. Maybe those of us who actually live here don't want an ugly view of a river of cars all day every day. But hey, we live in the city so who cares about us.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

This is all wrong headed thinking.  Pass a law that big businesses can only have non essential personnel drive into work 2 or 3 days a week and give that money to the companies via tax break.   With as much money that is being thrown around, the city could pay for the equipment.  Half the time, people are driving into the city to talk on the phone anyway or attend one meeting a day. It makes no sense.


I would go even further and work with big companies to come up with a schedule to alternate days and regulate traffic flow.  


Suburbs would love it because they would not only see reduced traffic but also increase lunch time fiscal activity.  Atlantans and commuters would love it because their life would be less miserable. Environmentalist would love it because it reduces emissions.   Businesses would love the money from having the lease less space and the tax incentive.  Basically everyone wins. 

Gandolph
Gandolph

@JFMcNamara I agree with most of what you are saying, but we don't need more laws.  Cooperation would be nice (second paragraph). You site opinions as to why people come into town and the money that is being "thrown around", but we really don't know those things.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@Kyle_Wingfield @JFMcNamara , agreed, but we are in a digital economy and moving further and further in that direction.  Most of the jobs we create for the 2.5M people will not be manufacturing where someone needs to show up and turn a crank. They are moving here to write code, design things and do financial analysis.  I would think telecommuting would be plan A, not plan B, C or D.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JFMcNamara It can be plan A and still be far short of sufficient. It's got to be A (telecommuting) and B (roads) and C (transit) and probably D (something we're not talking about/aware of in 2016) as well.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JFMcNamara Metro Atlanta is projected to grow by more than 50% (2.5M people) over the next 2.5 decades. Telecommuting can and should be part of the answer, but there will also need to be more infrastructure. The only question is what kind(s) and where it goes. This is not the only thing I would build, but it's one thing.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Kyle that was the original plan for the Interstates before the decision to meld them together thru town. I 75 was to go down the west side of downtown, but historic and AA neighborhoods would be destroyed. That was and still is the reason your plan would not work. Besides only 4 lanes?


There has been a plan for over 30 years to improve that corridor by improving throughput on the city streets...to no avail, although some of the choke points have been eliminated ...but others added. 

Oh, and like the Connector cover, how do you build it? Close the road as you erect the bridges over live traffic?


How about the plan to extend GA 400 underground toward the Carter Library and down to I675? Out of sight...out of mind! It would have to daylight though due to ventilation needs. It could be a toll road where fees would go up based on demand.

This has a better chance than your plan!


But a better network of MARTA trains and extension into Gwinnett, N Fulton, Cobb DeKalb and Clayton, and possibly Douglas Counties would be better...if people would get out of their cars. At least on a train you can text legally!

Gandolph
Gandolph

@RoadScholar MARTA is not and never has been the solution.  It does not go everywhere, is politically charged and is cost prohibitive to make it so even if you could overcome the politics, which you can't.  The Atlanta topography is too large compared to other successful mass transit cities like New York or Chicago.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RoadScholar First, the vast majority of the corridor I'm talking about is commercial/industrial, not residential. Second, because we're talking about a totally elevated highway, I don't see how it "destroys" any neighborhoods.

I agree more could be done to relieve interstate traffic by improving arterials, but like I said above: I think it's an all-of-the-above strategy given the need (2.5M more people over the next 25 years).

I have heard about the tunnel for years. At this point, I think it's probably cost-prohibitive -- no way you could build it for the <$1B I'm talking about here. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RoadScholar I suppose it's also possible you could use the 41 corridor and do some combination of elevated highways and tunnels. It would be more expensive than what I'm talking about, but it would probably require dramatically less tunneling compared to the 400/675 plan. The other problem with 400/675 vs. my 41 idea is that it would take traffic heading down 400 and 85 and connect it to the 75 corridor. It doesn't help people who are coming down 85 and trying to stay on 85 ... unless you build a tunnel connecting over to 85 as well. It's just a much more massive project. The 41 corridor offers a bypass for 75 traffic staying on 75 OR changing to 85 below downtown (because it ends at the 75/85 split), freeing up capacity for through traffic on 85.

bu22
bu22

@Kyle_Wingfield @RoadScholar Connector was the worst mistake Atlanta ever made on transportation.  75 and 85 should never have been run together.  And it is almost all commercial/industrial.  In some of this stretch, there already is MARTA overhead.  This road you propose should go down to Langford Parkway and use that route to connect to 285 and I-85 again.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Kyle_Wingfield @RoadScholar They are building the I75/I575 project for $2B and SR400 interchange with I 285 for about a billion....depending if the present design/construction team can build it considering they left at least $400 MILLION on the table due to a bid error!!!!!