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Continuous Flow Intersection opens
CFI pic 1
The continuous flow intersection in Dawson County opened officially overnight on May 15, connecting Ga. 400 and Hwy. 53 with a series of lanes and signals designed to guide left-turning vehicles out of the way of crossing traffic. - photo by Amy French

Georgia's first continuous flow intersection at Hwy. 53 and Ga. 400 was unveiled Monday night as the signals switched to accommodate the new traffic flow.

Though the work is mostly done, a press release from the Georgia Department of Transportation states that drivers will still see barrels and cones around work zone areas near the intersection, but those are expected to be cleared by the middle of June 2017.

The CFI, also knowns as a Displaced Left Turn or DLT, is modeled in only a few states across the US. For this reason, few have traveled through a similar intersection and can be easily confused by how it operates.

The first thing to know about the CFI is that continuous flow does not mean there are no traffic lights and no stopping. The CFI will however "allow more ‘green time' at the intersection by removing the Ga. 400 northbound and southbound left turns from the main Ga. 400 and Hwy. 53 intersection," according to GDOT.

"At conventional intersections, through traffic has to wait for the left turn movements to complete before they can go," said GDOT District One Communications Officer Katie Strickland. "In a CFI, through traffic is allowed to flow continuously while left turners can make their maneuvers. They are able to do this through the use of left turn lanes that are set back farther than a typical intersection, special lanes and an integrated system of traffic signals."

The confusing nature of the intersection is derived from these misplaced-looking new "cross over lanes" that take left turns out of the flow of traffic.

These lanes will guide left-turning drivers across Ga. 400 and to separated left turn lanes, where a traffic light will signal left turns onto Hwy. 53 east or westbound.

Ga. 400 north and southbound will get a green light at the same time as the left turn lanes onto Hwy. 53 east and westbound get a green light. The flow of initial left turn cross over movement and through traffic together is where the "continuous" originates.

Those turning left off Hwy. 53 will still have a left turn lane and left turn arrow at the main intersection.

As series of informational videos have been released by GDOT detailing how the CFI should function. The videos can be found on Facebook, at @GDOTNE.

GDOT's release also addressed a few frequently asked questions about the CFI. If the power goes out, GDOT said there is battery back up at the intersection. In case of a crash at the intersection, GDOT has coordinated with Dawson County Emergency Services and have a plan in place to help expedite the removal of vehicles and anyone injured.

Another question, why was an interchange not built instead, was answered with "Georgia DOT's Public Outreach meetings revealed that an interchange was not a favored option by the community."

"The CFI's innovated design is a great cost saver," the release reads. "The capacity of this type of intersection rivals a full interstate style interchange. This also leaves a smaller impact to the area as there are no ramps or overpasses constructed."

The project officially broke ground over two years ago, though it was a long time in the planning stages.

Planning started in the early 1980s under a grant for Appalachian funds. At the time, overpasses were being considered but were ruled out due to cost and disruption of traffic, as the work was estimated to cost $150 million or more.

GDOT unveiled the official plan for the intersection early in 2010, and it was projected to cost around $14 million. Six years later the project is about to open, and has cost $11.2 million.

According to GDOT, the new intersection should decrease congestion in the area by 85 percent.

Other states, including Texas, Utah and Louisiana currently have operational CFIs.