Skip to Main Content
phone logo
Call us for FREE Consultation (404) 418-8507 We don't get paid unless we win for you.

Why Is Atlanta Traffic So Bad?

Anyone who has lived in the Atlanta metro region for any length of time will tell you how bad the traffic is on a day-to-day basis. This is not just a matter of opinion, either. Numerous studies of traffic congestion have shown Atlanta is one of the worst cities in the United States when it comes to traffic. So just how bad is the traffic in Atlanta? And what are some of the reasons that is the case?

Is Atlanta Really the Third-Worst Commuter City in the United States?

Clever Real Estate, a leading national real estate information services company, published a survey in 2023 of the “Best and Worst Cities for Commuters” in the United States. This survey looked at the 50 most populated metropolitan areas in the United States based on a number of criteria, including the “annual hours lost to traffic,” the availability of public transit, and the average costs of maintaining auto insurance.

It probably will not surprise any native Atlantan to learn that their city did not excel in any of these areas. Indeed, Atlanta finished in 48th place out of 50, making it the third-worst major city for commuters in the country. Only Chicago and Houston finished lower.

You might be wondering, how did Atlanta actually stack up against the top-rated city in the Clever study, which was Salt Lake City, Utah? Here were a few points of comparison:

  • Atlanta commuters lost an average of 74 hours each year to traffic. Salt Lake City commuters lose just 12 hours. (The national average was 51 hours.)
  • The average one-way length of an Atlanta commute was 12.2 miles. The typical Salt Lake City commute was nearly half as long at 6.5 miles. (The national average was 8.8 miles.)
  • The typical Atlanta commuter spends about $1,043 per year on fuel, tying Seattle commuters for the highest gas spending in the country. A Salt Lake City commuter only spent around $582. (The national average was $763.)

Obviously, these types of studies only provide a broad overview of the problem of traffic congestion. A more “micro” look comes from the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), which since 2002 has collected GPS data from commercial trucks to determine the “Top 100 Truck Bottlenecks” in the United States. In the most recent ATRI survey, which is current through 2023, the Atlanta region alone had 9 of the 100 top bottlenecks–and 3 in the top 10. The ranked bottlenecks were:

  • I-285 at I-85 North (#5)
  • I-20 at I-285 West (#6)
  • I-285 at SR 400 (#9)
  • I-75 at I-285 North (#12)
  • I-75 in McDonough, Georgia (#16)
  • I-20 at I-285 East (#21)
  • I-20 at I-75/I-85 (#35)
  • I-75 at I-85 (#72)
  • I-75 at I-675 (#92)

3 Explanations for Atlanta’s Traffic Woes

A problem like traffic congestion does not have a single cause or source. Nor is there any “magic bullet” that can solve the problem. That said, here are a few things to consider while you are sitting in traffic while heading to work tomorrow:

1. Urban Sprawl

Metro Atlanta is the sixth-largest metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the United States, with nearly 6.3 million residents spread out over 8,300 square miles. This not only means the Atlanta region is crowded, but also that the population is not as densely distributed as some other MSAs with smaller populations. All that urban sprawl means that more people spend more time commuting to and from the suburbs of Atlanta every day.

2. Limited Use of Public Transit

Going back to that Clever study, one notable finding was that New York City–the largest MSA in the United States in terms of population–only came in ninth among the worst cities for commuters, while Atlanta finished third. One explanation for this is that while New York City may be more overcrowded and congested than Atlanta, residents of the Big Apple are far more likely to use public transit to get to work versus their southern brethren.

Atlanta is by no means the worst city in the United States when it comes to public transportation options. But the region is hardly known for it either. In fact, only about 3.5 percent of Metro Atlanta commuters use public transit, according to a 2019 article published by the Atlanta Regional Commission. That translates to about 100,000 commuters each day, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the 77 percent of commuters who drive alone to work.

3. Atlanta Is a Major Commercial Hub

Atlanta’s traffic is not wholly the result of internal demand such as commuters from the suburbs. The city is also a major hub of interstate–and international–commerce. This is reflected in ATRI’s study labeling 9 of the Atlanta MSA’s major intersections as chokepoints for commercial trucking. The fact is there are simply a lot of trucks that pass through the area each day, usually making deliveries to and from other parts of the country. Add to that the commercial traffic generated in and around Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport–the single busiest airport on the entire planet–and you have a city that is almost fated to experience perpetual congestion.

More Traffic Means More Accidents

Another consequence of Metro Atlanta’s traffic woes is that motor vehicle accidents are quite commonplace. The most recent figures from the Georgia Department of Transportation found there were over 1,800 traffic-related deaths and just under 9,000 serious injuries in accidents reported in 2021. That averages out to about 5 deaths and 25 serious injuries each day of the year.

If you have been seriously hurt in a car accident, it is important to seek out advice and representation from a qualified Atlanta personal injury lawyer. The team at Ponton Law can review your case and advise you of your options for seeking financial compensation. Contact us today to schedule a free evaluation.