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Atlanta earns dubious distinction for gridlock

Well, it's official: Atlantans have the worst commute in the nation.

That's the word anyway, according to Forbes.com. I've long suspected it, but it didn't make me feel any better knowing I was right.

We're worse than Houston. Worse than Dallas. Worse than Los Angeles.

If that's not scary enough, we're worse than Washington. Several years ago, I sat in a Washington traffic jam at 1 a.m. No wreck, no construction. Just too much traffic at 1 o'clock in the morning. Amazing.

In the years since then, getting around Atlanta has gotten progressively worse. And now, by golly, we've reached the top. Or bottom, depending on your perspective.

According to the Forbes story, Atlantans spend 60 hours a year stuck in traffic and fewer than one in three make it to work in less than 20 minutes. And for about 13 percent of us, it takes longer than an hour.

Unsurprisingly, Forbes cites our unbelievable growth rate and lack of useful public transportation as major contributing factors to our achingly slow, stressfully long commute.

If you grew up here - and chances are you didn't - you remember a time in the area's history when we actually had a rush hour. And it was just about that - an hour, give or take a few minutes.

I used to cross Interstate 285 at Glenwood Road every morning on my way to school. All the lanes going north would be jammed. Moving, but jammed. The southbound lanes were pretty much empty.

At 5 p.m., this reversed. By sixish, traffic would be moving smoothly enough to get on I-285 and go up to Memorial Drive without hitting the brakes.

As the years went by, and more people came, rush hour became two hours, then three.

Now, unless you leave at 3 o'clock in the morning, you're almost guaranteed traffic wherever you drive. And 3 a.m. is no guarantee the roads will be deserted, especially around the city.

I've heard a phrase used many times over the past few days, thanks to Obama's crazy preacher - the chickens are coming home to roost. But in our case, they're taking a while to get home.

Too many folks, not enough roads and no intention of building a useful mass transit system has led to our current situation. And what do we do about it? We suggest things like lanes in which you can pay - if you can afford it - to drive a little faster.

The region has failed miserably to plan for our growth. We've sprawled and sprawled until the problem has been so compounded that it may be irreversible.

Comedian Lewis Black put it best when he was recording a live album, "The End of the Universe," here a few years ago. (I'll clean it up for a family newspaper.)

"Nice to be back in Atlanta, nice to see that you really have worked out your traffic problems. You don't give a (expletive) about it, do you? I guess this must be my sixth appearance here, and every time I beg the audience, I plead with you, do something. Nobody seems to give a (expletive). Try as hard as I can to explain that you're living a psychotic lifestyle, and you don't care. Got too many people. ... 'Oh, yeah, let's build out there, we'll keep building' - Stop it! OK? Stop it! At what point do you say, hey, no more (people) can live here?"

The whole bit is six minutes long and is the most honest assessment of Atlanta's commuting nightmare I've ever heard. It's R-rated, so don't do this with kids in the car, but you should check it out.

The next time you're stuck in traffic.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays.