Kempner: I-85 collapse an economic fork in the road


If there’s anything we aspire to in metro Atlanta, it is to be a community on the move.

So the collapse of an interstate bridge — of I-85 no less in Buckhead — feels like the caving in of Atlanta’s femoral artery.

This one won’t kill us. It will, though, hurt us. We know it will make our drives more miserable. And it will again remind us that the limits of our transportation system might be metro Atlanta’s biggest economic handicap.

The shock of it will lead to demands for fixes and solutions, because that’s what we do after such things.

We’ll come up with some. And some may actually be put in place before attention wanes.

It happened after Snowmaggedon, when a sheen of ice made all our concrete and asphalt and sophisticated traffic systems look insignificant. So our leaders did what we expected them to: they got more snow equipment and deicing stuff and promised that next time they would send us home earlier, long before ice could block us in.

This I-85 collapse presents a much more difficult job than getting ice to melt in the South.

The eventual repair of the hole in our interstate will not make our mobility or our economy any less vulnerable than they were before.

Doing anything more than that looks like a monumental task. It is neither cheap nor fast to buy more interstates and lay fresh MARTA rails.

But in the meantime, the I-85 collapse — like the longer running collapse of the efficiency and predictability of our commutes in general — will add momentum to another kind of change already underway.

It’s not driven so much by big government fixes, but by hundreds of thousands of Atlantans making changes in their daily lives.

It’s the millennials and empty nesters who are already opting to move intown and cut miles from their commutes. It’s the folks who choose to live near beefed-up town centers in the suburbs where sometimes they can really walk to things that are worth walking to. And it’s people who have discovered that often they can work from their dining room table just as easily as they can from an office 20 miles away.

We’re figuring out workarounds, some of which are a revelation. Which is exactly what we need when a hole gets busted in our mighty interstate.

There’s always more than one way to go.



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