Opinion: A fire that should be a wakeup cry

The spectacular destruction of a key piece of our commuting puzzle points toward the dire need to improve other mobility options, such as transit.


With hefty doses of good humor, Southern-bred politeness and an increased reliance on GPS or smartphone traffic apps, metro Atlantans are for the vast part making the best of workaround (aka, lengthened) commutes necessitated by the spectacular fire and subsequent collapse of a section of I-85.

That’s a big deal in a spread-out metro area like ours. Unlike many other cities, our lack of a comprehensive, consistent, cross-hatched grid of surface streets leaves metro Atlanta — and the rest of the state and U.S. really — vulnerable to (hopefully) once-in-a-generation events such as the crumbling of a critical piece of elevated superhighway. Metro Atlantans rely heavily on thoroughfare highways, given that we don’t in many cases have easy, convenient alternative routes to traverse between points A and B. What often passes for major arterial streets around here would be viewed as winding, light-duty secondary roads elsewhere.

That’s the hand we’ve dealt ourselves across the generations. Our infrastructure idled along at a rate that has nowhere near kept up with population growth, in our view. As a result, cries of looming “Carmageddon” here made headlines around the world as the dust and smoke still rose from the ruined stretch of I-85.

Some help is on the way. GDOT, the rest of Georgia government and even the feds are moving quickly to speed the rebuilding of the missing link of concrete and pavement. That is a great thing.

Not surprisingly, ridership on our undersized transit network has spiked, including a spate of folks who’ve developed a newfound familiarity with buses and trains. Which speaks to the civic utility — and necessity even, we’d argue — of robust, multimodal transportation options in growing, bustling, business hubs like metro Atlanta.

We must not forget that, even after the newly reconstructed patch of I-85 is dedicated and joyously put back into the service of a quarter-million vehicles a day.

To be all that we can be, metro Atlanta must redouble efforts to increase transit infrastructure as well. Our growth, and the arson-fueled crumpling of a critical part of our commuting infrastructure, powerfully underlines this great need.

It is up to all of us to act accordingly, and begin supporting the planning and devising of ways to pay for improvements we so desperately need.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.



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