I moved to Athens in 1992. Naturally, many changes have taken place over the years since then—some good, some not so much. Our population has grown along with the enrollment at UGA. More people equals more vehicles. Until a year or two ago, the increase in traffic wasn't so bad that it affected my ability to get from Point A to Point B in the amount of time I expected to. I drive around for a living, and have gotten to the point where I can make a very close estimate of the time it will take me to travel to my appointments.
However, over the past year or so, I've noticed, as I'm sure many other drivers have, that there's backed-up traffic at several major intersections, that even with a left-turn arrow one can sit and wait for five or 10 minutes to get through the intersection, adding significantly to one's travel time and wasting gas.
The latest problem I've noticed is the serious backup of vehicles on exit ramps from the bypass onto some surface roads. At some times of day, the vehicles are actually backed up onto the Loop—they can't even get onto the exit ramp until a couple of series of the traffic lights have allowed enough vehicles to move off the ramps and into the street. I don't know about anyone else, but I find that dangerous. There has got to be someone who is in charge of dealing with the smooth and safe flow of traffic in Athens-Clarke County, and that person is not keeping up with the needs of the increased vehicles.
Yes, in a perfect world we'd all be using public transit or bicycles or walking, but the reality of it is that I can’t carry all of my equipment and necessary tools of my trade (veterinary house calls) in any other way than a vehicle.
One of the main contributors to this mess of traffic backup is the proliferation of tractor trailers on the surface roads in Athens. All it takes is three or four of these 40-foot-long behemoths on an exit ramp to create the back-ups onto the Loop on any given exit. They also delay entry onto several entrance ramps due to taking up the entire left-turn lanes that are used for vehicles waiting to get onto the Loop. This creates another delay for the “regular” vehicles to get through the series of traffic lights that will permit them to finally get onto the Loop.
Why are there so many tractor trailers on the surface roads all day and night? Isn't there some way to divert them to some other directions where the traffic for citizens won't be as badly affected? Do we need wider exit ramps and longer entry lanes for the Loop in order to avoid the backups and potential accidents (and road rage by frustrated drivers who now have added 15 minutes to their daily commute)? And what about emergency vehicles? When the intersections are so crammed with vehicles, bumper to bumper, where can they go to allow emergency vehicles to safely pass?
It's a mess, and getting messier. Not only do the big rigs create those traffic backups, they also prevent drivers from seeing some signage at the side of the road (speed limits, streets or exits coming up), as well as preventing the driver behind them from being able to tell if the traffic light ahead is still green. The top of the tractor trailers blocks the drivers behind them from being able to see the overhead traffic lights and safely pass through or turn from the intersection. I'm surprised there haven't been more serious accidents and fatalities due to these problems.
I would love to see fewer tractor trailers on the roads in Athens, especially during peak drive times. (Yes, we now have morning and evening rush hours, which we didn't have until the past few years.) Can the trucks be limited to nighttime only? I don't know the answers, but I sure know the problems, and something has got to give.