By Johnny Jackson
In the coming months, metro Atlanta commuters will see on-ramp traffic meters come online.
Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) officials say the on-ramp meters should help decrease congestion along the Interstate 75 corridor through Clayton and Henry counties.
The DOT has placed 10 such meters on major exits between Forest Parkway and Hudson Bridge Road in Clayton and Henry counties, which see an average daily count of about 135,000 automobiles on I-75.
The ramp meters are a part of the department's $16.9 million effort to alleviate congestion and emphasize motorist safety, said Paul Marshall, a DOT electronic media specialist. Ramp meters are traffic signal devices used to mitigate traffic congestion by pacing, or regulating, the traffic flow from entrance ramps onto the interstate.
The meters are typically used during the morning and afternoon rush hours, Monday through Friday.
The department's ramp-metering program will eventually involve signalization at as many as 120 Atlanta-area interstate interchanges by the middle of 2009.
According to Marshall, the department began studying metro Atlanta's few existing ramp meters in 1996 and more recently those added in 2005. "They got very good results for the initial four on the downtown connector," he said. "They saw average declines on trip times on the connector down 10 percent."
He added that at other ramp meters in north Atlanta, meters saw trip times decrease by as much as 20 percent. One hundred and fifty-six new ramp meters will be added to the eight already in operation. The meters, each worth $125,000, have been used in some other major cities for about 20 years now.
"We are watching them on cameras, while they're operating," he said. "We control them and monitor them from the DOT's Transportation Management Center in Atlanta."
Marshall said that the center monitors traffic flows on both the interstate and side streets that lead to on-ramps, to be sure that traffic flows as freely as possible. Ramp meters in Atlanta have become a necessity due to the increasing congestion in the metropolitan area.
Georgia DOT's 2004-2006 accident data reported some 10 percent of Atlanta's traffic accidents on I-75, I-85, I-20, and I-285 occurred at entrance ramps - accidents that were, in some way, related to merging onto the interstate.
"We've seen noteworthy results," Marshall said. "The worse the congestion at a given area, at a given point, the better the benefits."
Ramp meters in Clayton and Henry counties are expected to be operational this fall, or by the spring of 2009.
"One thing we ask the public is to give them a chance," he continued. "As they come online, there's going to be an adjustment period for us and the public. We ask that they bare with us during that time. There's not really a silver bullet to fight congestion. This is just one tool to help fight congestion."
Stockbridge City Manager Ted Strickland said he has seen an increasing need in the Southern Crescent for more efficient commutes.
The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) park-and-ride program has been increasingly popular for commuters in Clayton and Henry counties looking to save money, time, and headaches on their commutes to and from work each day. The new park-and-ride lot at Ga. Highway 138 on the Clayton-and-Henry county line is filled daily.
"GRTA's park-and-ride is slammed full," Strickland said. "Additional park-and-ride lots at every interstate interchange would be ideal. More and more people are going to have alternative transportation needs. We need to look at all areas of alternative transportation."
He said he believed that park-and-ride lots should eventually be used on major side roads as well.
"I think you're going to see greater and greater demand for alternative transportation," he added. "Ride share, buses, trains, and commuter rail are all a possibility."