Metro Atlanta roads: How to make do with a transportation system that’s (mostly) already on the ground

By David Pendered

State and regional transportation planners are taking the steps they think are within reach in order to relieve traffic congestion in metro Atlanta. GRTA’s board took its first step Wednesday.

One way to reduce traffic congestion on the southbound Downtown Connector would be to change driver behavior on Williams Street. Instead of allowing drivers who exited onto Williams Street to turn left onto Ivan Allen Boulevard, which is the first left turn after the highway, drivers could be directed into the area marked by the oval and allowed to turn left on one of those intersecting streets. This routing would result in eastbound traffic backing up on Williams Street, instead of onto the highway, according to an example provided by a GDOT planner. Credit: David Pendered, Mapquest

One way to reduce traffic congestion on the southbound Downtown Connector would be to change driver behavior on Williams Street. Instead of allowing drivers who exited onto Williams Street to turn left onto Ivan Allen Boulevard, which is the first left turn after the highway, drivers could be directed into the area marked by the oval and allowed to turn left on one of those intersecting streets. This routing would result in eastbound traffic backing up on Williams Street, instead of onto the highway, according to an example provided by a GDOT planner. Credit: David Pendered, Mapquest

The solution won’t be a magic bullet, no more so than if voters in 2012 had approved the construction program envisioned for the proposed 1 percent transportation sales tax. Transit was not part of Wednesday’s conversation.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s touch is evident in the new approach. Deal said after the sales tax referendum that the state would focus on affordable transportation solutions, or, in the words of the resolution approved by GRTA’s board: Georgia will, “improve the movement of people and goods across and within the state [in order to] expand Georgia’s role as a major logistic hub for global commerce.”

Two planning efforts are unfolding simultaneously. Both target only roadways, and both appear intended to create a bare-bones set of transportation construction projects.

“We’re looking at … what we can do, what we can expect, and what we can afford – because that’s what we’re getting into,” state transportation planner Kyle Mote told the GRTA board.

One current effort – the one approved by GRTA’s board – calls on GRTA, ARC, and the state Department of Transportation to devise transportation plans that “direct limited resources to the most impactful projects” that will be identified in updates to the region’s long-range transportation plan, according to the adopted resolution.

A similar resolution is due for adoption Thursday by the ARC’s transportation planning committee. If approved, the ARC board could consider it as early as April 24.

The purpose of the resolution is to have the various planning entities all working with the same guidelines. To that end, the resolution states:

  • “It is GRTA’s goal to work with its partners for outcomes that are consistent with the governor’s vision and the [Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan] and that direct limited resources to the most impactful projects for both the 2014 update and the 2016 major updates.”

The updates mentioned call for the ARC to modify the region’s long-range transportation plan so that it aligns with the state’s transportation plan and expected resources.

The second effort is a double-pronged approach to managing the interstate highway system in metro Atlanta.

One prong involves the wiser use of managed lanes to be installed in the future, and only outside I-285. These lanes most likely will be tolled. The second prong is better management of existing roadways.

Mote described roadway management with an example that involves the oft-jammed exit ramp from the Downtown Connector to Williams Street, located just south of Georgia Tech’s campus.

Typically, traffic exiting at Williams Street backs onto the highway because of the clog of cars waiting to turn left from Williams Street onto Ivan Allen Boulevard. Those vehicles could be moved off the highway if the left-turn lane were relocated from Ivan Allen Boulevard to an intersection a block or more farther south, away from the connector.

This solution would move most of the clog of cars, if not all of it, from the highway to Williams Street. The result would be, essentially, the formation of an extra lane for travel on the Downtown Connector.

 

About David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with nearly 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.
This entry was posted in David Pendered and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
11 comments
The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Also, just as we have discussed before here on The Saporta Report, the distance-based user fee funding concept can also be applied to the financing of the construction and the continued operation and maintenance of passenger rail transit lines and the surrounding corridors they anchor.

For the Interstate/expressway system of Metro Atlanta and its surrounding North Georgia environs cannot be successfully-managed without the presence of an adequate rail-anchored mass transit supplement.

Metro Atlanta's radial Interstate/expressway spokes will never flow as smoothy as might be possible during peak hours as long as the surrounding corridors that they anchor continue to lack the proper transportation infrastructure in the form of high-quality, high-frequency regional passenger rail service on paralleling rail right-of-ways and Truck-Only Lanes within the right-of-way of said expressways.

In addition to fast-growing volumes of heavy automobile and freight truck traffic and chronic underfunding over the long-term, the thing that helps to make Metro Atlanta's peak hour traffic so bad on its interstates and expressways is the lack of a viable regional transportation alternative in the form of regional passenger rail transit service on paralleling freight rail right-of-ways, where applicable, in the I-285 Top End, I-20 West, I-20 East, I-75/I-575 North, I-75 South, I-85 South, GA 400 (no existing parallel freight rail ROW), and I-85/I-985 North/GA 316 corridors.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Also, just as we have discussed before here on The Saporta Report, the distance-based user fee funding concept can also be applied to the financing of the construction and the continued operation and maintenance of passenger rail transit lines and the surrounding corridors they anchor. For the Interstate/expressway system of Metro Atlanta and its surrounding North Georgia environs cannot be successfully-managed without the presence of an adequate rail-anchored mass transit supplement. Metro Atlanta's radial Interstate/expressway spokes will never flow as smoothy as might be possible during peak hours as long as the surrounding corridors that they anchor continue to lack the proper transportation infrastructure in the form of high-quality, high-frequency regional passenger rail service on paralleling rail right-of-ways and Truck-Only Lanes within the right-of-way of said expressways. In addition to fast-growing volumes of heavy automobile and freight truck traffic and chronic underfunding over the long-term, the thing that helps to make Metro Atlanta's peak hour traffic so bad on its interstates and expressways is the lack of a viable regional transportation alternative in the form of regional passenger rail transit service on paralleling freight rail right-of-ways, where applicable, in the I-285 Top End, I-20 West, I-20 East, I-75/I-575 North, I-75 South, I-85 South, GA 400 (no existing parallel freight rail ROW), and I-85/I-985 North/GA 316 corridors.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Constructing Truck-Only Lanes instead of managed/HOT Lanes around the entire circumference of I-285 and all stretches of Interstate OTP will also markedly improve highway safety by separating increasingly-heavy volumes of freight truck traffic from increasingly-heavy volumes of automobile traffic by eliminating conflicts between cars and trucks on the extremely heavily-traveled Interstate routes that Truck-Only Lanes are installed on.

The addition of Truck-Only Lanes to all stretches of Metro Atlanta interstates along the I-285 Perimeter and beyond (OTP) will also help cargo and freight shipments to move through the area faster by giving trucks and automobiles their own separate roadways (freight trucks would get their own new roadways with their own entrances and exits while the current lanes would remain in use for automobile traffic only).

Adding Truck-Only Lanes to the entire circumference of the I-285 Perimeter in the form of a separate roadway elevated over the existing roadway would be the equivalent of building a new outer bypass for trucks only (sort of like building the erstwhile-proposed Outer Perimeter bypass, but in the much-more politically-feasible and publicly-acceptable form of a new elevated truck-only roadway built strictly within the existing right-of-way of the I-285 Perimeter so that NO existing development or open space is disturbed or negatively-affected).

The addition of Truck-Only Lanes to the entire circumference of I-285 and beyond OTP will also help to dramatically improve traffic flow on the roadways they are installed on by removing increasingly-heavy volumes of freight truck traffic from the current Interstate lanes.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Constructing Truck-Only Lanes instead of managed/HOT Lanes around the entire circumference of I-285 and all stretches of Interstate OTP will also markedly improve highway safety by separating increasingly-heavy volumes of freight truck traffic from increasingly-heavy volumes of automobile traffic by eliminating conflicts between cars and trucks on the extremely heavily-traveled Interstate routes that Truck-Only Lanes are installed on. The addition of Truck-Only Lanes to all stretches of Metro Atlanta interstates along the I-285 Perimeter and beyond (OTP) will also help cargo and freight shipments to move through the area faster by giving trucks and automobiles their own separate roadways (freight trucks would get their own new roadways with their own entrances and exits while the current lanes would remain in use for automobile traffic only). Adding Truck-Only Lanes to the entire circumference of the I-285 Perimeter in the form of a separate roadway elevated over the existing roadway would be the equivalent of building a new outer bypass for trucks only (sort of like building the erstwhile-proposed Outer Perimeter bypass, but in the much-more politically-feasible and publicly-acceptable form of a new elevated truck-only roadway built strictly within the existing right-of-way of the I-285 Perimeter so that NO existing development or open space is disturbed or negatively-affected). The addition of Truck-Only Lanes to the entire circumference of I-285 and beyond OTP will also help to dramatically improve traffic flow on the roadways they are installed on by removing increasingly-heavy volumes of freight truck traffic from the current Interstate lanes.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

{{"The second effort is a double-pronged approach to managing the interstate highway system in metro Atlanta....

....One prong involves the wiser use of managed lanes to be installed in the future, and only outside I-285. These lanes most likely will be tolled. The second prong is better management of existing roadways."}}

The state's consideration of "managed lanes" or High-Occupancy Toll lanes (HOT lanes), while better than the absolutely nothing that Georgia's residents have come to expect from its government, I suppose, is a terribly-misguided approach to alleviating traffic congestion on the stretches of Interstate where the construction of managed lanes/HOT lanes are under serious consideration by the State of Georgia.

Instead of managed lanes/HOT Lanes, which basically utilize congestion pricing in the form of adjustable tolls on one or two lanes of each direction of a roadway as a way of letting the vehicles who pay toll rates of up to $1.00 per-mile escape from severe congestion in the untolled lanes during peak hours, the State of Georgia should be in the active process of funding and constructing multiple truck-only lanes on all of I-285 and all stretches of interstate outside of I-285.

The construction and continued operation of truck-only lanes (and all other interstate maintenance & construction needs) can be fully-funded by ELIMINATING the portion of the state's fuel tax that currently increasingly-ineffectively funds the maintenance and construction of the Interstate system in Georgia and replacing the state's increasingly-antiquated fuel tax with the implementation of inflation-pegged per-mile user fees on the entirety of the Interstate system within the State of Georgia.

Under the system of transportation funding where Interstate highways and expressways are funded solely with user fees, each roadway gets to keep whatever user fees it collects so that each roadway can adequately fund its own unique set of physical and logistical needs (with the possible exception of Interstate 59 in the extreme-northwestern corner of the state which would likely have relatively fewer maintenance needs for the very-short length of less than 20 miles that it travels through the state of Georgia).

Funding expressways with inflation-pegger user fees instead of state fuel taxes means that each individual expressway will able to collect and have available the funding to pay for its own unique set of logistical needs (truck-only lanes, sound barriers, night-lighting in urban areas, frequent repainting of lane markings, frequent replacement of pavement, bridge-replacement, tunnels under densely-developed areas, etc).

The construction of multiple truck-only lanes on all OTP stretches of Metro Atlanta interstate (only on I-285 and beyond OTP) would be infinitely-better than managed/HOT lanes because truck-only lanes will allow I-285 and OTP stretches of Interstate highways to much better accommodate volumes of automobile and heavy-freight truck traffic that are only expected to increase dramatically in coming years.

The already exceptionally-heavy volumes of automobile traffic and freight truck traffic are expected to increase dramatically in coming years both with and without the long-overdue expansion of passenger rail-anchored transit service in the Atlanta region.

Though automobile and freight truck traffic volumes are expected to dramatically increase even moreso without the long-overdue and critically-needed transit expansion.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

{{"The second effort is a double-pronged approach to managing the interstate highway system in metro Atlanta.... ....One prong involves the wiser use of managed lanes to be installed in the future, and only outside I-285. These lanes most likely will be tolled. The second prong is better management of existing roadways."}} The state's consideration of "managed lanes" or High-Occupancy Toll lanes (HOT lanes), while better than the absolutely nothing that Georgia's residents have come to expect from its government, I suppose, is a terribly-misguided approach to alleviating traffic congestion on the stretches of Interstate where the construction of managed lanes/HOT lanes are under serious consideration by the State of Georgia. Instead of managed lanes/HOT Lanes, which basically utilize congestion pricing in the form of adjustable tolls on one or two lanes of each direction of a roadway as a way of letting the vehicles who pay toll rates of up to $1.00 per-mile escape from severe congestion in the untolled lanes during peak hours, the State of Georgia should be in the active process of funding and constructing multiple truck-only lanes on all of I-285 and all stretches of interstate outside of I-285. The construction and continued operation of truck-only lanes (and all other interstate maintenance & construction needs) can be fully-funded by ELIMINATING the portion of the state's fuel tax that currently increasingly-ineffectively funds the maintenance and construction of the Interstate system in Georgia and replacing the state's increasingly-antiquated fuel tax with the implementation of inflation-pegged per-mile user fees on the entirety of the Interstate system within the State of Georgia. Under the system of transportation funding where Interstate highways and expressways are funded solely with user fees, each roadway gets to keep whatever user fees it collects so that each roadway can adequately fund its own unique set of physical and logistical needs (with the possible exception of Interstate 59 in the extreme-northwestern corner of the state which would likely have relatively fewer maintenance needs for the very-short length of less than 20 miles that it travels through the state of Georgia). Funding expressways with inflation-pegger user fees instead of state fuel taxes means that each individual expressway will able to collect and have available the funding to pay for its own unique set of logistical needs (truck-only lanes, sound barriers, night-lighting in urban areas, frequent repainting of lane markings, frequent replacement of pavement, bridge-replacement, tunnels under densely-developed areas, etc). The construction of multiple truck-only lanes on all OTP stretches of Metro Atlanta interstate (only on I-285 and beyond OTP) would be infinitely-better than managed/HOT lanes because truck-only lanes will allow I-285 and OTP stretches of Interstate highways to much better accommodate volumes of automobile and heavy-freight truck traffic that are only expected to increase dramatically in coming years. The already exceptionally-heavy volumes of automobile traffic and freight truck traffic are expected to increase dramatically in coming years both with and without the long-overdue expansion of passenger rail-anchored transit service in the Atlanta region. Though automobile and freight truck traffic volumes are expected to dramatically increase even moreso without the long-overdue and critically-needed transit expansion.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

{{"Metro Atlanta roads: How to make do with a transportation system that’s (mostly) already on the ground....

....State and regional transportation planners are taking the steps they think are within reach in order to relieve traffic congestion in metro Atlanta. GRTA’s board took its first step Wednesday."}}

...I guess that one of the good things about Georgia's transportation infrastructure being chronically-underfunded (if there is any good thing that can come out of this), is that, at the very least, the state is being forced to concentrate on some of the simplest, most easy-to-implement solutions before getting to the point where they can implement the transportation fixes that are of a much-larger scale.

And though, there is no dispute that working on the smaller, easier fixes (the fixes which should have been considered and implemented anyway) is a really good thing, the state cannot put off forever the large-scale transportation projects and initiatives that are needed to improve mobility and keep people and traffic moving in and throughout the Greater Atlanta region.

Large-scale transportation projects like the reconstruction of freeway interchanges at I-285 & GA 400, I-285 & I-20 West, I-285 & I-85 North, I-285 & I-20 East, I-285 & I-75 South; the addition of elevated truck-only multi-lane roadways to the entire circumference of the I-285 Perimeter and stretches of I-20, I-75 and I-85 Outside-The-Perimeter as well as large-scale transportation initiatives like the long past-due vast-improvement, upgrade and expansion of rail-anchored regional transit service where applicable (transit service is not necessarily applicable everywhere) through the implementation of a regional passenger rail system are the high-dollar items that are needed to keep the Atlanta region and its North Georgia environs economically-viable moving forward over the long-term.

At some point, the fast-growing state of Georgia is going to have to commit to making the hard decision and doing the hard-work to fully fund the critical large-scale needs of its transportation network, there just is no way around that logistical reality.

If the State of Georgia does not do what it must to fund the ever-increasingly critical needs of its overburdened and undersized transportation network, the Federal Government will do it for them and the State of Georgia and its constituents will not necessarily like what it does (dramatically-increased levels of transit ridership that are forced through the method of federally-imposed congestion pricing in the form of adjustable tolls on ALL LANES of the freeway system).

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

{{"Metro Atlanta roads: How to make do with a transportation system that’s (mostly) already on the ground.... ....State and regional transportation planners are taking the steps they think are within reach in order to relieve traffic congestion in metro Atlanta. GRTA’s board took its first step Wednesday."}} ...I guess that one of the good things about Georgia's transportation infrastructure being chronically-underfunded (if there is any good thing that can come out of this), is that, at the very least, the state is being forced to concentrate on some of the simplest, most easy-to-implement solutions before getting to the point where they can implement the transportation fixes that are of a much-larger scale. And though, there is no dispute that working on the smaller, easier fixes (the fixes which should have been considered and implemented anyway) is a really good thing, the state cannot put off forever the large-scale transportation projects and initiatives that are needed to improve mobility and keep people and traffic moving in and throughout the Greater Atlanta region. Large-scale transportation projects like the reconstruction of freeway interchanges at I-285 & GA 400, I-285 & I-20 West, I-285 & I-85 North, I-285 & I-20 East, I-285 & I-75 South; the addition of elevated truck-only multi-lane roadways to the entire circumference of the I-285 Perimeter and stretches of I-20, I-75 and I-85 Outside-The-Perimeter as well as large-scale transportation initiatives like the long past-due vast-improvement, upgrade and expansion of rail-anchored regional transit service where applicable (transit service is not necessarily applicable everywhere) through the implementation of a regional passenger rail system are the high-dollar items that are needed to keep the Atlanta region and its North Georgia environs economically-viable moving forward over the long-term. At some point, the fast-growing state of Georgia is going to have to commit to making the hard decision and doing the hard-work to fully fund the critical large-scale needs of its transportation network, there just is no way around that logistical reality. If the State of Georgia does not do what it must to fund the ever-increasingly critical needs of its overburdened and undersized transportation network, the Federal Government will do it for them and the State of Georgia and its constituents will not necessarily like what it does (dramatically-increased levels of transit ridership that are forced through the method of federally-imposed congestion pricing in the form of adjustable tolls on ALL LANES of the freeway system).

Tyler Blazer
Tyler Blazer

Another thing that would help is to hire traffic engineers to direct traffic at the Ernst & Young building at Allen Plaza instead of some "hire-a-cop" who stops all traffic in every direction to let out one or two cars as soon as they pull out from the parking deck. Countless times the lights at Spring Street/Ivan Allen as well as Williams Street/Ivan Allen have cycled with no cars moving because of the traffic cop holding up traffic for one or two cars at Allen Plaza.

Oh and if only MARTA and the City of Atlanta would target problematic intersections to make small improvements. Many have utility poles too close to the ROW and car-stops not far back enough to make a proper turn. So a bus has to slip over the curb and/or swing out into opposing traffic lanes in order to make a turn.

Tyler Blazer
Tyler Blazer

Another thing that would help is to hire traffic engineers to direct traffic at the Ernst & Young building at Allen Plaza instead of some "hire-a-cop" who stops all traffic in every direction to let out one or two cars as soon as they pull out from the parking deck. Countless times the lights at Spring Street/Ivan Allen as well as Williams Street/Ivan Allen have cycled with no cars moving because of the traffic cop holding up traffic for one or two cars at Allen Plaza. Oh and if only MARTA and the City of Atlanta would target problematic intersections to make small improvements. Many have utility poles too close to the ROW and car-stops not far back enough to make a proper turn. So a bus has to slip over the curb and/or swing out into opposing traffic lanes in order to make a turn.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Moving the left turn lane one or more blocks south on Williams Street away from the exit ramp as an attempt to relieve the back-ups in the right 2 lanes of the Southbound Downtown Connector just north of the Williams Street exit is a good idea.