County Traffic Technician Dennis Ellis says he's found a solution to getting around traffic jams this time of year.
"My presents were all bought by the end of August," he said.
But anyone facing an unfinished gift list can expect to deal with traffic headaches around shopping centers until the holidays pass.
As expected, the most congested areas in Augusta center around the commercial hubs of Augusta Mall on Wrightsboro Road and Augusta Exchange off Wheeler Road, Mr. Ellis said.
By using Augusta West Parkway or Marks Church Road to get between the two centers, shoppers can bypass ramp traffic from Bobby Jones Expressway, which can back up heavily during peak times.
But even the shortcuts can get messy sometimes.
The day after Thanksgiving, which traditionally kicks off the holiday shopping season, traffic on Augusta West Parkway was backed up nearly half its length with cars waiting to get onto Bobby Jones Expressway.
And while Marks Church Road has fewer stores than the parkway, the road has become more widely used, Mr. Ellis said.
"Everybody knows about it on the weekends," he said.
Using Jackson Road to travel between the two areas gets drivers farther away from the vehicle swarms, and Skinner Mill Road allows motorists to avoid Walton Way Extension, which is usually saturated on the weekends.
Then there's the intersection of Marks Church and Wheeler roads, where each year traffic engineers and road deputies regulate the onslaught of cars attempting to enter the Augusta Exchange.
Starting today, Mr. Ellis said, the traffic department is converting a lane on Marks Church Road so drivers have an extra lane to take onto Robert C. Daniel Jr. Parkway, which runs through the middle of the Augusta Exchange.
Drivers themselves could help increase traffic flow in the area, Mr. Ellis said.
"It would move traffic better if they would just go up and use the Agerton Lane (entrance)," he said.
Maj. Richard Weaver said road deputies report an increase in fender benders and other collisions inside shopping center parking lots this time of year.
"We'll assign additional folks to help out in the patrolling the parking lots," he said.
Amy Ranero of Augusta said she has been shopping at the Augusta Exchange only on weekdays to avoid the weekend traffic peaks.
"It's horrible. It seems like they don't know how to drive," she said. "We were here the day after Thanksgiving. ... We almost saw two accidents."
The best advice John Gatheral of Augusta had for those who have to brave the shopping trip was to at least check their watches.
"I find the best time to come is usually if you come on the weekends, come first thing in the morning when they first open up or during the week, right after work - 4:00 or something like that," he said.
"I get frustrated. I get frustrated easy. That's probably why I don't come out when it's real busy."
Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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