I-285: Main Street in the Metro

Estimates are that daily more than 2 million drivers use I-285, the busiest Interstate freeway in the ATL area. This beltway covering about 64 miles came to be known as The Perimeter. The entire completed loop opened in 1969 as a fourlane highway, two lanes each way, and has grown steadily. The freeway has helped many Atlantans learn to navigate the city’s considerable urban sprawl, making 285 one of the most heavily traveled roadways in the U.S.


The worst part of driving The Perimeter is dreaded “rush hour,” much more than 60 minutes, when traffic slows to a crawl or goes into complete gridlock. Indeed for freeway drivers in the ATL, 285 has become a kind of Main Street in the metro.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic on 285 has almost LA proportions when sections in the freeway, eight to 12 lanes wide in places, are slap full. The northern stretch of 285 east of the Cobb Cloverleaf (I-75 Interchange) to Spaghetti Junction (I-85 Interchange) in Doraville is known as the Top End. The dangerous interchange with SR 400 is some of the busiest traffic in the U.S., with about 250,000 cars per day crossing three counties.


In 2012, GDOT raised the speed limit on The Perimeter to 65 mph but drivers are obliged to stay with whatever the flow of traffic is. Since 2013 there have been electronic signs for variable speed limits, depending on traffic or weather, helping to move traffic at reduced but steady speeds. But drivers who suddenly brake, because others do, create stop-and-go traffic on 285 like any other main street.


The circular loop of 285 can be confusing to visitors. In 1982 it became Atlanta folklore with Braves pitcher Pascual Perez of the Dominican Republic. Having gotten his new GA drivers license Perez, on one of his pitching days, took The Perimeter to old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. He rode the loop so many times without exiting that he ran out of gas! “Knucksie” Phil Niekro pitched instead. The Braves were so tickled at Perez that they loosened up and ended a2-19 slump, starting a 13-2 win streak that led to a divi-sion title. And instead of his player’s number, the equipment manager put I-285 on the warm-up jacket of Perez.


–Dr. Paul Hudson

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