No doubt born of the common frustration, which legislators share, of being stuck in traffic, House Bill 273 to eventually permit a limited number of interstate shoulders to be transformed into added lanes has won approval.
The measure actually only calls upon the state Department of Transportation to study the idea of using interstate emergency lanes and hard shoulders during peak commute times. Supporters estimate that probably only about 10 chokepoints would qualify of which all, naturally, are in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
Other than creating some vague and poorly grounded hope that “help is on the way,” the bill is unlikely to do much. For one thing, the DOT estimates it would cost about
$1.8 million a mile to upgrade/reconstruct such lanes to take the pounding of high-speed volume traffic. In a state where highway construction already runs on fumes and bonded indebtedness, such expenditures might well be exorbitant.
THERE ARE also serious questions unaddressed regarding the safety of motorists at those locations if this came to pass. “Right now, our emergency lanes are used for people who break down or have an accident, to get them out of traffic,” said Bert Brantley of the DOT.
Supporters respond that their limited target areas are in areas where there is a grassy surface nearby that police cars and ambulances could use, or where drivers with car trouble could pull off onto. Pray for a drought then — what a car or semi can do to a wet lawn tends to be impressive and result in a tractor pull.
One of the co-sponsors, Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who represents mostly Bartow County plus the eastern side of Floyd County, said “It’s just giving them the flexibility to do it if they want to, and I bet they will. It’s an opportunity to relieve congestion without dumping a lot of taxpayer money into something.”
Ah yes, let’s not “dump” taxpayer money into better roads, especially since there is no money to “dump” because the state has the lowest gasoline tax in the nation and is already up to its wheelwells in bonded debt for highways.
The bill does also contain permission for solo drivers to use those high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes on the weekends. That at least makes sense. For one thing, those lanes are constructed for traffic moving at speed; shoulders are not.
FOR THE MOST part, this seems just another one of those “miracle solutions” that politicians come up with when they don’t want to deal with the real problem.
To be sure, this concept is not entirely unheard of. Maryland and Virginia use it to deal with peak-hour congestion. The Netherlands has long done this at chokepoints on its superhighways, but accompanies it with a
25 percent speed-limit reduction (the equivalent on Atlanta expressways would be take a 60 mph limit down to 45 mph).
The Dutch also invested in overhead signage above all the lanes. The highways are monitored by cameras; when a car breaks down — and now has no place to go — a red cross emblem is displayed closing that entire lane. Can one imagine a worse place for something like this to happen than on an Atlanta expressway during rush hour?
Emergency lanes are intended for the individual driver’s minor emergencies — flat tire, over-heated car, running out of gas. It gives them a place to pull over, get out of the way of potential mobile mayhem, and wait for assistance. If there’s no place to go the sense of danger that often accompanies Atlanta rush-hour traffic will only be increased.
WHILE GEORGIANS should be delighted more legislators are noticing the traffic mess in and around Atlanta — though, strangely, many only seem to get concerned when they have to drive to the state Capitol for the 40 days of the session. However, such “answers” are little more than stalling tactics to avoid facing the real problem.
This state needs a serious attack on its highway problems, and on its need for improved roads from one end of the state to the other. Increasing highway capacity by opening shoulders to traffic is no different than suggesting that all four-wheel vehicles be banned and interstate travelers be restricted to two-wheel motorcycles and scooters. That would greatly increase the number of “lanes” too.
There’s only one thing that will solve Georgia’s traffic problems, which have a single fundamental cause: More cars than will fit on the existing pavement. That’s more money, and a lot of it. Tax money from — gasp! choke! — higher motor-fuel taxes.
Now that’s an idea which, for a politician interested in
re-election, tends to be viewed as a really cockamamie notion. For a driver now threatened with the vision of being stalled in the center lane of a highway without shoulders, with cars whizzing past at 70 mph on both sides and with road-rage prone motorists angrily honking horns behind him, it might seem like great wisdom