Posted on: Apr 12, 2016
By Mike Alexander
ARC’s Director of the Center for Livable Communities
Metro Atlanta motorists waste an average of 59 hours a year in traffic congestion, according to a recent study that ranked Atlanta as the 9th most congested region in the country.
This comes as little surprise to anyone who’s been stuck in rush-hour traffic lately. Yet, the big challenge is still to come.
The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) forecasts our population will reach 8 million by 2040, an increase of 2.5 million people. How will we accommodate this growth and improve mobility?
The Atlanta Region’s Plan, a long-range blueprint recently adopted by ARC, provides a four-step approach:
1. Widen major thoroughfares and improve highway interchanges
Carefully targeted investments can make a big difference, easing congestion in the short term and helping to accommodate future growth.
The Atlanta Region’s Plan includes $5.8 billion to widen the region’s network of major arterial roads, the backbone of the region’s transportation system. In all, 178 major roads will be widened, from Ga. 20 in Cherokee County to Ga. 155 in Henry County, adding a total of 963 lane-miles of capacity.
Major roadway improvement projects to be completed by 2020
- SR 92 realignment (Douglas)
- SR 20 widening (Cherokee and Forsyth)
- Tara Blvd. widening (Clayton)
- Macland Road widening (Cobb and Paulding)
- Newnan Bypass extension (Coweta)
- Lithonia Industrial Blvd. extension (DeKalb)
- East Fayetteville Bypass (Fayette)
- Roswell Road reversible lane removal and widening (Fulton)
- Atlanta Highway widening (Forsyth)
- Buford Highway widening (Gwinnett)
- I-85 widening (Gwinnett)
- SR 155 widening (Henry)
- Salem Road widening (Rockdale and Newton)
Meanwhile, improvements to key highway interchanges will ease some of the region’s worst traffic bottlenecks. The Atlanta Region’s Plan includes $3.1 billion to build 13 new interchanges and upgrade 22 others.
The most notable project is I-285 and Ga. 400, one of the region’s most congested interchanges, which is being reconfigured at a cost of $803 million. Improvements include flyover ramps to eliminate unsafe and inefficient left-hand merges as well as collector-distributor lanes to separate through traffic from vehicles that are entering and exiting the area.
Notable interchange projects set to be complete or under construction before 2020
- I-285 at SR 400 – Reconstruction (Fulton)
- I-285 West at I-20 West – Reconstruction (City of Atlanta)
- SR 316 – Six new interchanges (Gwinnett and Barrow)
- I-285 East at I-20 East – reconstruction (DeKalb)
- I-28 West at Camp Creek Parkway – Reconstruct as diverging diamond (S. Fulton)
- I-75 South near Bethlehem Road – New interchange (Henry)
- I-75 North at Windy Hill – Reconstruct as diverging diamond (Cobb)
2. Build a network of managed toll lanes that offer a way around the gridlock
Imagine hopping on a freeway during rush hour and traveling at least 45 miles per hour. That’s the promise of managed toll lanes – a free-flowing ride for people willing to pay a toll, carpool or ride a bus.
The Atlanta Region’s Plan programs $7 billion to build 100 miles of managed toll lanes on key highway corridors across the region, adding capacity and making trips more reliable. Critically, transit vehicles such as GRTA Xpress buses will be able to use the new lanes, providing an incentive for people to get out of their cars.
Managed Toll Lane Projects in Metro Atlanta
I-85 North (DeKalb and Gwinnett counties)
- Length: 16 miles
- Toll: Variable, up to $10 for entire stretch
- Usage: 24,000+ vehicles per day
Northwest Corridor (I-75 & I-575, Cobb & Cherokee counties)
- Length: 30 miles
- Cost: $834 million
- Completion: Late 2017
I-75 South (Henry County)
- Length: 12 miles
- Cost: $176 million
- Completion: Early 2017
- Ga. 400
- I-85 North extension
- I-285 – topside
- I-20 West
- I-20 East
- I-85 South
3. Expand transit service to better connect our region’s major employment centers and improve mobility
Any attempt to improve mobility in the Atlanta region must include additional transit options. The Atlanta Region’s Plan commits $12 billion for potential transit expansion projects, including MARTA projects in Clayton County, Ga. 400, I-20 East and the Clifton Corridor, one of the region’s largest employment centers.
However, most of these projects won’t be built for several decades or more unless additional local funding is identified.
The Georgia Legislature recently approved a bill that would allow the City of Atlanta to ask voters to raise the MARTA sales tax by a half penny. A project list has yet to be developed but could include rail transit on the Atlanta BeltLine and an expansion of the Atlanta Streetcar.
Learn more: Transportation Funding Bills Highlight Successful 2016 Legislative Session
4. Help local governments create more walk- and bike-friendly communities, with improved access to jobs and transit
Finally, the plan will expand the region’s network of bicycle and pedestrian trails and foster the development of communities that offer increased walking and biking options, as well as improved access to transit, jobs and services.
About $314 million is allocated to fund transportation projects, such as sidewalks and bike lanes, through ARC’s Livable Centers Initiative.
It’s important to note that the Atlanta region can’t build its way out of congestion. Every thriving region wrestles with traffic problems to one extent or another.
Going forward, a congestion-free ride to work may require paying a toll or riding in a bus or train. More people will need to live closer to work, take transit, walk, bike or telecommute.
Improving the region’s walking, biking and transit options will not only help mobility, these options are vital to metro Atlanta’s ability to attract and retain young professionals seeking a car-free lifestyle. And young people are not the only Atlantans looking for alternative modes of transportation. The region’s fast-growing population of older adults will also be seeking travel options that will help them get around and allow them to remain in their communities as they age.