Bullets flew over traffic jam in 1997, but scant notice paid as relief arrives

By David Pendered

Sixteen years ago, the traffic on Johnson Ferry Road between Cobb and Fulton counties was so bad that someone fired two slugs into the control box of a traffic signal, evidently to make a green light last longer.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (with scissors) cuts the ceremonial ribbon for the Johnson Ferry Road project. Credit: City of Sandy Springs

Sen. Johnny Isakson (with scissors) cuts the ceremonial ribbon for the Johnson Ferry Road project. Credit: City of Sandy Springs

Last week, Sen. Johnny Isakson cut a ribbon to open the newly improved Johnson Ferry Road. Hardly anyone paid heed.

It’s anyone’s guess as to why the improved road has garnered such little comment. But it does suggest some degree of weariness when a $26 million project that was nearly 30 years in the making doesn’t trigger a buzz.

Johnson Ferry Road gets a lot of traffic because it links the densely populated areas of east Cobb and southern Cherokee counties with I-285 and Ga. 400. In addition, the road leads to the retail and business centers at and near Perimeter Mall.

The road also crosses the Chattahoochee River, which actually has few crossings to serve commuters traveling in close-in Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. There’s I-285, Johnson Ferry Road, Roswell Road, Ga. 400,  Holcomb Bridge Road, then a scattering of bridges in northern Gwinnett County.

The Georgia Department of Transportation identified Johnson Ferry Road as a bottleneck in 1987. Cobb widened the road on its side of the river. Fulton, citing funding shortfalls, delayed work.

Frustration grew along with traffic congestion. At the time the traffic light box was shot, in July 1997, the timing of the light had reached the point that the trip through the valley that’s bisected by the river could take an hour, according to a story by the Associated Press.

GDOT fully engaged in March 2002, according to its timeline of the project. The process of acquiring rights-of-way started in August 2005. The project was let in January 2009 and was completed in recent weeks – after a few delays.

According to GDOT’s statement on the project:

  • “The project widened Abernathy Road from Johnson Ferry Road to Roswell Road from two lanes to four lanes. It also includes four-foot bike lanes, 16-foot shoulders with eight-foot sidewalks and is divided by a 16-foot to 32-foot [wide] raised median.
  • “The Abernathy Road widening project was done in conjunction with the Johnson Ferry Road widening project, which included widening Johnson Ferry Road from Columns Drive to Abernathy Road. This project provides six travel lanes from Columns Drive to Riverside Drive, four travel lanes from Riverside Drive to Abernathy Road, a 16′ raised median, four-foot bike lanes and 16′ shoulders with eight-foot sidewalks.
  • “The project cost is $25.7 million and the contractor is C.W. Matthews.”

In a prepared statement, GDOT Deputy Commissioner Todd Long said:

“This event will be a celebration of better traffic flow in an area that has witnessed an incredible increase in traffic congestion during the past two decades. I am so pleased in the partnerships that have made this project such a success. With Sen. Isakson’s support and with the planning and coordination with FHWA [Federal Highway Administration] and the City of Sandy Springs, I believe we have a roadway that will serve this area very well for years to come.”


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 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.

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