ATLANTA - Atlanta has a few “traffic-geddons” every year, but WSB Radio's Doug Turnbull says Monday’s National Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium could end up being one of the biggest Atlanta traffic problems of 2018.
Keep in mind, we’re in early January. Atlanta has known for a long time this game and the surrounding fan events were coming, but now the Georgia Bulldogs are playing in it, with the nearby Alabama Crimson Tide as the opponent. That factor alone means the local energy and traffic will be at a fever pitch.
But now President Donald Trump is attending. This will be a traffic “bomb cyclone.”
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Trump’s intentions to attend surfaced Wednesday, as fans were scrambling to make plans to get tickets and make arrangements. This inspires an initial reaction of, “You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me!” Traffic through Downtown Atlanta will already be packed for the 8 p.m. game, the preceding Darius Rucker pre-game concert in Centennial Olympic Park (gates open at noon), arriving traffic for the next-day/weeklong market at AmericasMart, the start of school for Atlanta Public Schools and the first day of classes at Georgia Tech and Georgia State.
The presidential motorcade draws road blocks for its entire stretch between either Dobbins AFB or Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the respective president’s destination. The Georgia State Patrol not only blocks the road the motorcade travels upon, but also the entrances to the said route. With I-75/85, I-20, Northside Drive and other roads surrounding The Benz as packed as can be expected, blocking them for 10 to 20 minutes or maybe more will no doubt cause extreme inconveniences during Trump’s trip both to and from the game. There really is no driving alternate to these jams.
The president’s arrival could mirror when former Vice President Joe Biden came to speak at an Atlanta synagogue in September 2015, when the Falcons also had a preseason game and Georgia Tech was playing at home. Yes, traffic was a big mess then.
To make matters worse, the weather will be miserable. WSB Radio meteorologist Kirk Mellish says cold rain and potentially a wintry mix could slow traffic even more, with temperatures right around the freezing mark. We know what rain does to a normal commute. If the rain were to turn into something more frozen, that could really me the poison cherry on top of the traffic nightmare sundae on Monday.
There are two best bets for travel. If you aren’t going to the game or surrounding events, check with your employer about telecommuting, to keep yourself out of the gridlock. And if you do have business in Downtown Atlanta, particularly at the game or concerts themselves, take MARTA.
MARTA announced Thursday that it is running a weekday schedule Sunday and is running extra trains Monday, with the last ones at 2 a.m. Tuesday. Mercedes-Benz Stadium has some of the best public transit access in the country - use it. And MARTA suggests buying your roundtrip tickets ahead of time, so you stand in line one less time at the Breeze Card machines.
Another externality of the president’s presence is that it makes life especially rough for us traffic reporters just trying to cover the madness. The Secret Service requires GDOT to cut off its entire live camera system, preventing us from seeing the jams and problems in real time. And with Air Force One bearing down, there is a Temporary Flight Restriction for several hours, keeping both the WSB Skycopter and NewsChopper 2 grounded for the duration.
We can only pray that the rain holds off during the height of PM drive, that people take MARTA and telecommute, and that maybe, just maybe Trump take a helicopter from the airport. That isn’t likely. So we will just pray even louder, “Go Dawgs!”
Several roads will be closed around the stadium. Here is a list:
- Marietta Street, between Ivan Allen Jr Boulevard and Centennial Olympic Park Drive
- Centennial Olympic Park Drive, between Portman Boulevard and MLK Jr Drive
- Eastbound Baker Street, between Luckie Street and Centennial Olympic Park Drive
To avoid delays, commuters are encouraged plan accordingly by utilizing the variety of commute options available in Downtown, including public transportation and remote work capabilities.
MARTA rail service will operate on a weekday schedule on Sunday, Jan. 7 with trains arriving more frequently.
On gameday, MARTA said all rail lines will provide service with more frequency and additional trains will be added as needed. The last trains will depart at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 9.
MARTA said employees will clear all stations before the last run to ensure no one is stranded.
MARTA recommends purchasing a round-trip ticket at the beginning of your trip to avoid long lines on the return.
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