Buckhead leaders, officials, business owners and residents are already seeing the effects the collapsed section of I-85 is having on business and traffic, but are hopeful and say it is too soon to make any conclusions.
How bad traffic and business losses will be can’t be determined from the first day following the incident, said District 6 City Councilmember Alex Wan, who represents the area. It will take time for people to find what alternative routes work for them, he said. Wan thinks the affects can be minimized if people use wayfinding apps and detour guides.
“I’m hopeful that the drop in business will not be so terrible,” he said. “To have one of the major arteries of Atlanta cut off like that is very serious.”
Sam Massell, a former Atlanta mayor and president of the Buckhead Coalition, said he believes the collapse will have a negative effect on Buckhead’s business, a community that does nearly $3 billion a year in sales, but he hopes people will come back to the businesses when the situation has calmed.
“This will slow the normal buying habits,” he said, “But we hope it won’t lose commerce, just delay purchases.”
The effects of the road closures can already be seen at some nearby businesses. The Piedmont Road branch of Goodwill has closed indefinitely, the store announced on Twitter. The only way to access the store is from Piedmont Road, which is closed directly in front of the store. The store doesn’t have a timeline for when it will be able to reopen.
An auto repair shop on Piedmont Road near the site of the fire had not had a single customer March 31 as it neared the end of the business day. The owner of GT Auto Repair, Menge Gizachew, said the road is closed south of their business, so it is extremely difficult for customers coming from south of Buckhead to get to the shop. Since it is an auto repair business, people don’t have the option of walking to the business or using mass transit.
But Gizachew is hopeful as time goes on people will find a way to make it in. “Today is too early to tell. We will see on Monday if it is better,” he said.
The Shepherd Center, a major spine and head injury hospital on Piedmont Road, sent alerts to patients and suggestions for alternative routes to use. The closures will primarily affect their outpatients and patients who come in for day programs, a spokesperson for the hospital said. The center is working with their patients to accommodate them even if they are late due to traffic, the spokesperson said.
The worst-case scenario is for Piedmont Road beneath the overpass to be closed for an extended period of time, Wan said. He hopes the Georgia Department of Transit or Atlanta police can find ways to close as minimal a piece of Piedmont Road as possible.
In a press release, GDOT said it “has aggressive goals to work to reopen some adjacent roadways to traffic in the near future, and will provide updates on these openings as soon as plans are finalized.”
Traffic is very heavy in the Buckhead area, but Massell hopes people can remain calm and levelheaded. Massell said he himself has had trouble getting to get places around Buckhead, but that people just need to be prepared for traveling to take longer.
“We have survived other catastrophes and done it with levelheadedness and a calm demeanor and we can do it again,” Massell said.
He also believes this incident could have a positive effect in the long term by bringing people to accept MARTA as a mode of transportation they can rely on.
“If people would try it, they would like it,” which is something he said he has believed since the 1970s when MARTA was constructed during his tenure as mayor.
Massell hopes residents of neighborhoods near the incident are patient with increased traffic from people using alternative routes through neighborhoods.
“We have neighborhoods that complain about increased pedestrian traffic when sidewalks are installed,” he said, explaining he expects residents of neighborhoods in the area to be frustrated with increased traffic.
Alex McGee, a board member for the Brookwood Hills Neighborhood Association, said he experienced much more traffic than normal on Peachtree Road and around Buckhead, but doesn’t expect a large increase within his neighborhood. Brookwood Hills only connects to Peachtree Road and McGee said they will benefit from not having direct access to other major roads.
He expects the Collier Hills neighborhood and Deering Road area to experience much more traffic due to their access to Northside Drive and Peachtree Road. However, McGee, like others, expects much to change throughout this process as people continue to figure out what route to take.