Atlanta turns to variable speed limit system to relieve highway congestion
Atlanta ranked as the 11th worst traffic city in North America, according to one study.
September 24th, 2012
02:31 PM ET

Atlanta turns to variable speed limit system to relieve highway congestion

Transportation planners in Atlanta, ranked 11th in North America for worst city traffic, are reaching into their bag of tricks for a way to control driving speeds based on real-time conditions.

The Georgia Department of Transportation will be installing new electronic variable speed limit signs along the northern half of Interstate 285. The speed limits will range between 45 mph and 65 mph, and they will fluctuate depending on traffic volume and weather conditions.

"We have been considering this legislation for about three years," said Georgia DOT Commissioner Keith Golden. "We want to give drivers a speed limit that they'll be more compliant to."

According The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the idea is to reduce stop-and-go driving and discourage frequent lane changes.

The whole system will be a relative easy project to set up, according to Golden. Work on the installation of the electronic signs is set to begin next month, and the system should be up and running by next summer.

“You’re able to move more traffic through with the variable sign system," Golden said.

Atlanta ranked as 11th worst traffic city (PDF)

Georgia isn't alone in this way of thinking. Washington, Virginia, Wyoming and other states have implemented a variable speed limit system along their highways.

According to a study by the Wyoming Department of Transportation, DOT officials from those states contend the system is working. Pat Persson, a district engineer in Wyoming, said the public reaction in general has been "very positive about these variable speed limits."

Traffic seems to be a concern for a lot of states. This month, the Texas Department of Transportation approved an increase in the speed limit on Texas State Highway 130 to a record 85 mph. The reasoning is the same as for Georgia - to help move traffic more efficiently.

According to Golden, there isn't necessarily a time frame for success for the Georgia project; however, if it manages to help congestion, then expect other highways in the Atlanta area, such as I-85, to receive the system as well.

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Filed under: Georgia • Wyoming
soundoff (163 Responses)
  1. Mike

    They had variable speed limits on I-270 around St.Louis. After spending millions to set up they only lasted a year before MODOT figured out they weren't enforcable (too many speeders and only a couple of cops) and now the signs have been changed to "speed advisorys". A complete waste of money. Can't the money be better spent elsewhere?

    September 25, 2012 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
    • PJL500

      For nearly 15 years, around London, England, on the far side of the (changing) speed limit sign there is a camera for each lane to make sure it is complied with...

      September 25, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • alex. peters.


      September 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • edslau6526

      It is only legal to use cameras to enforce speed in some states. I am pretty sure that Ga is not one of them. I think lil e Arizona and Maryland it is only a matter of time before more states do it. They are all hurting for dollars.

      September 26, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • max3333444555

      az had cameras. people shot them. i think they are all removed now

      September 27, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nerraw

      Mike is right, on I-270 these signs were up for a while. They were largely ignored by everyone. It implied you constantly had to be looking around for a sign that may be 4 lanes over and blocked by some truck. At times it would read 40 (normally 60) because there would be some slowdown 6 miles ahead. Since my exit was 2 miles ahead, I felt no desire to slow down. Cops were even afraid these were not enforceable speed limits for tickets, so they didn't really like them either (because they cut into their revenue stream).

      September 28, 2012 at 2:29 am | Report abuse |
  2. HD1968

    If the DOT really thinks ATL drivers will not drive faster than 65mph on I-285 they are crazy!!! You will get run over if you do less than 85mph. This thought process is just bonkers!

    September 25, 2012 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  3. idb

    The plan itself sounds credible enough. The problem is the execution of it. People will simply not comply. This has already been tried (and failed) in Europe. It is the same thought pattern as communism. Communism is the best political system in the world. In theory. The problem is that it has to be done by people. People are selfish, therefore it does not work.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Pure communism is fatally flawed because it assumes that everyone will produce and consume at a level and predictable rate. There is no room for initiative and excellence in communism, nor room for non-producers. It disengages effort from reward. Those that wish to excel will not tolerate the fruit of their labor being leveled to meet the baseline metrics of society. Similarly, those that do the minimum to exist will find they can lower their minimums because they find doing so will not proximately affect their status.

      Communism has ultimately failed everywhere it's been tried. Even in theory, it fails, for the reasons I gave above. By necessity, a certain level of "selfishness" is required for production. It's the impetus required to move from point A to point B.

      Why do you think the US, the youngest industrial country, excels at so many things? Most of today's most important advancements came from the US.

      September 26, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. GatorDude

    We already have variable speeds in Atlanta: Go Like Hell and Stop. Atlanta planners are just bitter because their sales tax idea got shot down at the ballot box.

    Hey Atlanta – Here's an idea: Express Buses that go DIRECTLY to work without ANY other stops. 1 or 2 stops at park'n'rides in a suburban neighborhood, a fast HOV ride, and then a stop directly at a major employer like Coca-Cola, Georgia Tech, Home Depot. or UPS.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
  5. Suzie

    Too many people on too little infrastructure. Growing from 1 1/2 million in 1980 to six million by 2000, Atlanta is a microcosm of the US exploding growth. The US population went from 150 million before WWII (1940) to more than double, 310 million, now. The native born population is static, so the growth is overwhelmingly attributable to immigration. Hey you open door amnesty granting democrats, how do you square immigration with environmentalism? How many more people do you want to cram in here?

    September 25, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  6. ronvan

    Atlanta is just one of many big cities that have the same problems. IF I have to drive to / through Atlanta I ALWAYS make my schedule to do it around 2-3 AM!! If you are driving there during normal work hours it is like going to a demolition derby! Speed limits & Lanes do not mean much!! IF you are not going to ENFORCE the current laws then why WASTE money on a system that will only result in drivers disobeying them? IF the police ENFORCED the current laws they would have to carry SEVERAL ticket books so they wouldn't run out!!!

    September 25, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Air Bud

    What a miserable crap hole.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Try adult diapers, should solve your problem.

      September 25, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. wagnertinatlanta

    We're not satisfied with 11th worst traffic. With this inspired idea, we should be #5 by a year from now.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. KawiMan

    Forget it in LA. Besides, ticket revenue is significant income to the state of California.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ecoli

    The concept of variable speed limits opens up vulnerabilities protected by the "Ex post facto" law. Imagine a driver that entered a 65 mile zone whereas the speed limit shortly dropped to a lower limit after they entered zone. The driver would be able to contest the charges Ex post facto.

    A better solution would be to increase the speed limit of the far left lane to 5 mph over the other lanes. Give anyone who cruises in the left lane a ticket for obstructing the flow of traffic unless they turn left or pass someone within 5 miles after entering the left lane.

    September 26, 2012 at 1:47 am | Report abuse |
  11. driver

    I think there is a big difference between exceeding the speed limit and reckless driving. Reckless driving is what should be enforced, not speeding. You can safely operate a vehicle on freeways at speeds up to 100mph and have perfectly zero problems with free flowing traffic. If you are weaving in and out of lanes and driving "recklessly" while at these speeds, that is where the problem comes in. We waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money on cops catching speeders when they should be catching reckless drivers or preventing real crimes in neighborhoods.

    September 26, 2012 at 7:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      I agree with that! Take it a step further and suspend driver licenses from people found driving recklessly.

      Other day I approached a major intersection. Two intersecting roads, three lane each in each direction with double left turns all around. 5x5x5x5 at the line. About 100 yards away, the traffic lights went dead - power failure. Too late to bail out. It was utter bedlam navigating the intersection. Absolutely NOBODY knew what the hell to do! I was reaching for the magic button on my dash that would revoke the DL of everyone within 100 yards. Too many drivers are too bloody stupid to operate a motor vehicle. No wonder 35,000 (?) people died in accidents in 2010.


      September 26, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Cliff

    Most of these clogs are caused by people being inconsiderate to others, acting like asses. The only thing that made the US worth anything is the way people use to have respect for each other, without that democracy can not exist, neither can free flowing traffic.

    September 26, 2012 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      You are buying into a fantasy that never existed.

      September 27, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  13. dd of al

    having worked in from1986 to 2001 i watched as the envin. movement worked to stiffel any growth [ by fileing lawsuits against any road improvement ] . the dot at beheadst of them, created the hov lanes. at the time i wondered how I75 was going to be improved trafficly? it made no sense to take the volume [ paper said 200000+ cars ] per day and force 95% of the traffic into 4 lanes instead of 5 .the hov lanes were always under used. it made any accident have a much greater effect on the movement [ read as backup ]of any one. that being said , it will be interesting to see if this works any better.

    September 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |

    most residents of Atanta metro are not from Atlanta.they are from the midwest.

    September 26, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Scott B

    I'm not sure I get how this is supposed to help traffic at all. On 285, either traffic is backed up and you aren't going to go any faster even if you want, or traffic is OK and most everyone goes 70+ when the speed limit is 55. I guess bumping it to 65 would be nice so that the few people that feel they need to actually follow the 55 speed limit will get up to speed with everyone else and limit accidents. I can't see where limiting the speed to 45 would make sense though. I guess you could set it before an accident, but that could just be accomplished by using signs to warn people. I kind of worry they are doing this so they can set up nasty speed traps and generate more revenue.

    September 27, 2012 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
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