DOT studies short-term fix for bottleneck

LAWRENCEVILLE - While it could take years to clear congestion on Interstate 85 in northern Gwinnett, the route to the mall could get an early boost.

Transportation officials will present a plan Thursday to widen a small stretch of I-85 north to clear a bottleneck near the Mall of Georgia.

According to Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Teri Pope, the idea of a quick-fix came from a legislative study to consider letting people driving on the shoulders of heavily congested interstates.

The major component was rejected because shoulders aren't built to handle the weight of traffic and it would leave drivers without a place to go if a car breaks ground.

But the study revealed that little work would be needed to create a clear pathway from the Interstate 985 split to Ga. Highway 20.

"There is definitely the need, and it can be done simply, just by adding an outside lane," Pope said. "That is a bottleneck daily."

Just north of Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road, I-85 splits from I-985, which has the traffic exiting to the left. Then, I-85 goes from three lanes to two.

"Right now, there are so many decisions to be made," Gwinnett DOT Director Brian Allen said. "You've got a four-pronged problem. This may deal with one and a half of them."

Pope said the state DOT has a long-term solution for I-85 north - widening the interstate all the way to South Carolina and adding high-occupancy-vehicle lanes to Hamilton Mill Road. But that will take hundreds of millions of dollars and countless years.

Another project to allow traffic to I-985 to exit to the right side of the road is in the early planning stages.

But Pope said the DOT realizes the area needs some immediate relief.

"We can do this simply and easily and stop a bottleneck," she said.

Extending that third lane won't require the DOT to buy any land, although two parcels are needed to extend a culvert, Pope said.

"We're hoping we can get it done in 12 months or sooner," she said. "This is a short-term fix. We want to take it to the public and see if they think it's as good a thing as we do."

Mall of Georgia officials did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.