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Gridlock Guy: New GA-400/I-285 ramp surprises motorists – expect more of that

By Doug Turnbull, For the AJC #atlanta-ga (CNT) City News And Talk

There have been many changes in the three-year Transform I-285/GA-400 project. Most of these have involved lane closures, lane shifts, ramp changes, and narrowed shoulders. To give a lot in the long term, project designers had to take away a little during the massive rebuild. But the first new ramp of the ballyhooed redesign opened early last Monday morning rather inauspiciously. The GA-400/southbound exit ramp to I-285/eastbound now begins far earlier than before, which confused and surprised some motorists last Monday. This was the first of a wave of new ramp openings and changes in this area by the end of 2021.

Drivers in Sandy Springs will need to adjust to the concept of choosing to exit early. The main purpose of the Transform I-285/GA-400 is to channel local-exiting traffic from the main thru lanes earlier, eliminating the late weaving to and from exits. Creating an environment of less erratic maneuvers on this four-plus mile stretch on I-285 and six-plus mile stretch on GA-400 will improve traffic in this busy hub of Sandy Springs.

By the project’s scheduled late-2021 completion, drivers wanting to exit GA-400 between the Glenridge Connector and south of Northridge Road and I-285 between Roswell Road and Ashford Dunwoody Road will have to make those decisions far earlier. Those scared of commitment, should mentally prepare now.

The GA-400/southbound ramp to I-285/eastbound used to begin right even with I-285, with drivers having to brake hard for a hairpin turn. But the new ramp that opened early in morning drive begins about a quarter-mile earlier. It’s a straight, long ramp and allows traffic to make the transition at a greater speed, improving the slow in the interchange. But drivers now have to commit to taking I-285/eastbound next to the Hammond Drive exit. With proper warning and signage, people should have handled this well. The transition, however, was not smooth.

GDOT could have executed this exciting change better. What should have been seen as a positive – opening the first flyover ramp of a huge project and eliminating a slow, inferior ramp – became a negative on day one. Inbound Sandy Springs commuters saw a ground level sign about the ramp’s location change just before having to choose to use it. This created last minute lane changes and confusion, which caused extra backups in morning and evening drive that day.

The messaging before the ramp’s opening was also confusing. The WSB Traffic Team got GDOT’s press release on the new ramp on the Friday beforehand. The wording about the new ramp’s opening said both “this weekend” and “Monday”, so it delivered a confusing message. I reached out to GDOT for clarification and did not get a response. In their defense, GDOT sometimes leaves a start time open-ended, because many factors can delay an opening or closure. But GDOT should have done more to make sure people got the clear message about this benchmark in its top road project.

On top of the muddled message in a cluttered news cycle, commuters also complained of poor signage on GA-400/southbound. Aside from a couple of temporary electronic signs and one permanent one very close to the new ramp, drivers had little idea of the change. The purpose of the entire project is to eliminate many of the last minute weaves that cause extra delays. GDOT should consider (and likely is) overhead signs for ramps even earlier in this area. And as ramps permanently open in this area, painting some pavement shields on the lanes will be good indicators for drivers.

The exit for the new GA-400/southbound flyover ramp to I-285/westbound will open adjacently to the new eastbound ramp before the end of this year, GDOT says. There is no exact date. So motorists need to plan their commutes ahead of time and check with 95.5 WSB and Channel 2 Action News for any big changes each morning. The WSB Traffic Team was all over this sudden ramp opening and got the word out often both on the air, on social media, and on the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App. Those that heard of the change were much less likely to miss their exit. People have adjusted quickly and the interchange has functioned more normally since.