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Traffic watchers work to keep commute smooth

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 6:14 PM
Last updated 9:52 PM
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An Augusta traffic engineer’s day starts long before the sun comes up during Masters Week.

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Traffic engineers Ron Lampkin, Mike Edwards and Steve Cassell monitor morning traffic. Cassell said directing traffic down Alexander Drive is "the key to everything."  BIANCA CAIN JOHNSON/STAFF
BIANCA CAIN JOHNSON/STAFF
Traffic engineers Ron Lampkin, Mike Edwards and Steve Cassell monitor morning traffic. Cassell said directing traffic down Alexander Drive is "the key to everything."

When the first rush of traffic hits Washington Road after 7 a.m., traffic engineer and interim deputy administrator Steve Cassell is already at his makeshift desk at Westside High School between other engineers.

On a platform in a small auditorium, the four engineers stare over their coffee at large screens of intersections packed with out-of-state visitors headed to the Masters, some seeing Augusta streets for the first time.

Seventeen traffic cameras and multiple electronic message boards are monitored and changed from the small room.

Engineers also keep in touch with Richmond County sheriff’s deputies working the streets to warn them of potential problems.

Flashing message boards on Interstate 20 advise motorists to “Turn off GPS. Follow signs,” hoping to convince the unfamiliar drivers to bypass the Washington Road exit for River Watch Parkway.

By 7:30 each morning, the Interstate 20 ramp to Washington Road is closed to all traffic, pushing drivers to River Watch Parkway. On River Watch, signs lead down Alexander Drive or through downtown.

“Alexander runs real well,” Cassell said. “It’s the key to everything.”

Before Alexander Drive was expanded and opened to Masters traffic several years ago, engineers were pushing all traffic through downtown.

On Wednesday morning, traffic was constant but did not see the back-ups engineers run into some mornings. A crash 70 miles west on I-20 in Greene County shut down all lanes for almost three hours and might have curbed the morning rush, but Cassell said it was difficult to tell.

Each day is different. Because of the Par 3 Contest, some patrons were arriving later but would also be staying later, which meant the nighttime Masters traffic rush would come after the normal workday rush hour.

On Monday, there was a different problem when the course was closed for the day because of an approaching storm.

“We had just finished filling lots when they closed,” Cassell said. “Considering there was a torrential downpour, it went smoothly.”

A Georgia State Patrol helicopter monitors the roads and parking lots from the sky and reports back to the temporary traffic command center. Georgia Department of Transportation officials also lend their hands at the command center.

In addition to monitoring cameras, the engineers use Twitter to warn travelers and Augustans of traffic and parking updates.

By 10 a.m. Wednesday, the parking lots were about 85 percent full; an hour later they were at 100 percent.

Once lots are full, the team that has been working since before sunup can rest for a few hours, until the golf patrons start to leave. But Cassell said they stay close to their computers in case crowds are let out early.


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