Georgia 400 HWY shoulder opens, traffic still a bear

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The Ga. 400 southbound shoulder lane opened to rush hour traffic at 6:30 Monday morning in an effort to relieve congestion on one of Georgia’s busiest roads.

The new setup didn’t appear to be helping much, as bumper-to-bumper traffic was reported between Windward Parkway and Northridge Road. The first report of a wreck in the emergency lane came in around 8:30 as the WSB Radio Traffic Center reported that a car hit the guardrail south of Northridge.

Channel 2 Action News reported that the car was driven by a former NFL player, Larry Roberts, who played defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers from 1986 to 1993. Roberts was arrested and charged with driving on a suspended license, Channel 2 said.

The emergency lane is open from Holcomb Bridge Road to the North Springs MARTA station from 6:30 to 9:30 Monday through Friday.

State Department of Transportation leaders at a news conference last week urged commuters not to expect miracles. Apparently that message got through. In an online poll conducted by AM 750 and 95.5FM Newstalk WSB, 86 percent of voters said they didn’t expect the extra lane to improve traffic.

“It will probably allow us to get a little more efficiency out of our system,” said DOT Commissioner Keith Golden, but the congestion relief won’t compare to a brand-new full-length clear travel lane.

The difference is that this new lane doesn’t extend all the way through, down to and beyond the I-285 interchange. For two stretches of a couple of miles each, drivers approaching an exit will have more space: approaching Northridge Road, where the lane cuts off, then starts up again; and approaching the North Springs MARTA station, where the lane cuts off again.

All the traffic that’s not exiting at Northridge Road or the MARTA station will have to move back into the same four-lane bottleneck to reach I-285.

But it’s not expected to make things worse, Golden said.

“We’re not introducing new entrance points, and it’s the same volume of traffic,” he said. Instead, all that traffic will now have 2 1/2 miles to do its weaving before those two highway exits, dissipating the lane changes that help cause crashes and congestion. Really, one could look at the project as providing extremely long new exit lanes for Northridge Road and the MARTA station.

The DOT no longer has the money to keep widening highways that much, so it has to turn to innovative solutions. This one was chosen by Gov. Nathan Deal, and announced in his State of the State address.

After this stretch gets rolling, an additional stretch north of Holcomb Bridge Road is slated to open later this summer.

If it works, the DOT expects to implement it on the northbound shoulder as well. The agency will likely evaluate the success after fall school traffic starts up.

“It’s a low-cost solution,” Golden said. “And if it’s a failure, we’ll back up, pull the signs up and remove it.”

This phase of the project has cost about $100,000, DOT spokesman David Spear said.

While regular traffic will be restricted to three hours a day, transit buses still will be able to use the shoulder lanes all day.

But the major benefit to the buses — and to emergency vehicles — of a basically clear lane during rush hour will be gone. Emergency services officers are concerned.

In response, the DOT has constructed seven new pull-off areas for stalled cars, police ticketing, or accident management sites.

In addition to the pull-off areas, the DOT is painting new lines on the road and installing new road signs, which should be unveiled midday Friday. On Monday, and every weekday after that, starting at 5 a.m. HERO trucks plan to push stalled cars and debris out of the lane, clearing it in time for morning traffic.

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