GDOT: No idea off the table in fixing Downtown Connector traffic

ATLANTA — Traffic on the Downtown Connector -- we hear it mentioned so much that we are numb to it.

But right now, the Georgia Department of Transportation is in the midst of a three-year study focused on one thing: relieving congestion on the Downtown Connector.

GDOT planners told Channel 2 Action News reporter Dave Huddleston no idea is off the table.

At the time of its design and construction beginning in the late 40s, there were no suburbs. People lived near where they worked, primarily downtown. Buses and street cars were the primary modes of transportation.

But all that has changed.

"At the time it was constructed, it was considered this amazing feat of engineering," Calinda Lee with the Atlanta History Center told Huddleston.

Lee says the merging of I-75 and I-85 into one brought easy travel for workers and shoppers to downtown. But not long after completion in the 60s, the connector was transformed by a new type of driver: the suburban commuter.

"It really kind of started to fall apart in the late 1950s and 60s as people started to move out into the suburbs and really separate the parts of their lives into ‘where I work’ and ‘where I live and shop’ is someplace else," Lee said.

Today, the connector carries more than 437,000 vehicles every day. Only 40 percent of that is moving through the downtown area. The other 60 percent is local traffic.

"The idea of an interstate is to provide through-traffic. It should not be a way to provide local mobility," Dr. Joseph Hacker, a specialist in city planning at Georgia State University, told Huddleston.

Hacker says many drivers rely on the connector like a cut-through arterial -- we hop on the connector to go a few exits up the road. Too many on/off ramps only complicate it further.

"It's very, very challenging sometimes to get over, you know, what I think is the crisscross, the weave you have to make to get between exits," Hacker said

But could relief be on the way?

Georgia's Department of Transportation has committed to making improvements -- a three-year evaluation to explore a range of solutions small and large scale.

"It's grown beyond what anyone could have imagined," GDOT planning director Jay Roberts told Huddleston.


Roberts says he and his department are considering every solution including so called "magic wand" scenarios like a new I-20 interchange, adding more lanes, even tunneling under the connector.

"Today we're planning for the 20 years from now," Roberts said.

But Hacker says that planning is limited by a major road block -- money.  He says ideas like tolling the connector, or tunneling underneath it like Boston did with their Big Dig project in the 80s and 90s just aren't feasible.

When Huddleston asked Hacker if tunneling under the connector might be a possible solution, he laughed saying: "You know how the Big Dig went. Four, five, six times over cost."

So his solution to traffic jams along the Grady Curve? Limit local access to the connector, make it a thoroughfare -- instead of a cut-through.

"Something where you control the on and off ingress and egress on the highway would be the simplest, cheapest way to do it. You could make modifications to some of the local roads, divert some of the money into that and I think that you could have a workable solution," Hacker said.

GDOT's study is scheduled for completion at the end of 2018.