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GDOT Mulls Capping, Digging Under Connector to Ease Traffic

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In an uncharacteristic move, the Georgia Department of Transportation is seeking to ease traffic on the Downtown Connector. But according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, plans call for more than the typical Atlanta "solution" of simply widening the road. GDOT is dreaming really big. From stacking the interstate to tunneling underneath it, the plan is to look at "innovative or unconventional ideas" in addition to smaller fixes such as re-striping and HOV or toll lanes. The agency says it's tethering itself to financial reality, though based on precedent in other cities, GDOT must have just won the lottery, because tunnels and double-decked bridges don't come cheap. After the jump, we get to the cause of the problem and talk proposals, both pie-in-the-sky and paint-on-the-ground.

Conceived as a means to bring big-city bustle into Atlanta, the Connector was created in the 1960s, allowing suburbanites easy access into the city for work, while going all Edward Scissorhands on downtown. It wasn't until 1982 that the Connector gained its 14-lane wide appearance, with local writer Lewis Grizzard likening the destruction wrought by the process to Sherman's return, only "this time he had The Bomb." Despite the asphalt stripe wider than the runways at Hartsfield-Jackson, Atlantans don't enjoy leisurely commutes home, thanks to the seemingly never-ending traffic. (Hell, this road is often clogged on weekends, man.)

While GDOT is tasked with maintaining the roads and improving traffic flow, dealing with the Connector is an uphill battle. Whenever the road is widened, it seems more people materialize to fill the space. Albeit a necessary evil, the Connector is an ugly scar through the heart of the city; ideas have been floated to cap it, or at least decorate it with pretty bridges. Still, with other pressing projects eating into roadway funding — the $1 billion interchange at Interstate 285 and Ga. Highway 400, for example — the prospects seem bleak.

The new GDOT studies lend hope for progress, with an acknowledgement that it's finally time to start looking into seriously radical interventions. If Atlanta were to dig, it would be following in the footsteps of other cities. Boston had the Big Dig — accompanied by massive cost overruns, delays and a death here and there — which buried a major artery through the city, providing a linear park and reconnecting neighborhoods sliced apart when the interstate was built. At the moment, Seattle is attempting to execute a similar solution, but has had nothing but issues with a stubborn drill named Big Bertha. Maybe digging isn't such a good idea. Besides, isn't the Connector sort of below-grade, anyway?

On the flip side, a double-decked interstate could be a massive eyesore — it's exactly what Boston eliminated with the Big Dig — and could complicate the already asinine interchanges of Atlanta's freeways. Just maybe, though, it's the most fitting solution. It would highlight Atlanta's affinity for massive roadways by raising it to prominence from the gulch it currently occupies.

However, with money being an issue, it seems highly unlikely that major tunneling or bridging projects are feasible in the near future. And don't put your faith in the recently passed transit bill; any funds from that would be a drop in the bucket for a major overhaul of the interstates.

Along with physical interventions, GDOT is interested in changing Atlanta's driving habits. Options include encouraging people to use Interstate 285, possible implementation of toll lanes or commuter-incentive programs to discourage people from driving. With traffic the way it is, you'd think people would already be discouraged to drive, but alternatives are limited. So it'll be interesting to see what ideas are generated from the GDOT request-for-qualifications to provide solutions.

· Georgia DOT eyes tunnel, double-deck for Downtown Connector [Atlanta Business Chronicle]