Tunnel of darkness | Callers plead for Georgia 400 tunnel lights’ repair

Georgia Department of Transportation said electrical panels in the tunnel keep flooding and need to be relocated.
Georgia DOT said electrical panels in the tunnel keep flooding and need to be relocated.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 12:08 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 16, 2023 at 3:45 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Hundreds of thousands of drivers already know what it’s like driving through Buckhead’s Georgia 400 tunnel on a bright sunny day. The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) call center received multiple complaints over the last year.

“This is particularly hazardous when one goes from the bright sunshine to pitch black, you are blinded, and everyone is slamming on their brakes,” one caller complained, while another said. “Some car’s lights don’t automatically turn on, so you can’t see other cars around you. Please, please, please fix and replace these lights.”

Atlanta News First Investigates used Google Maps to determine when the tunnel lights stopped working. Google Maps shows the northbound lane’s lights partially lit in November 2021. GDOT officials confirmed all lights in the tunnel stopped working on December 12, 2021.

Georgia DOT spokesperson Natalie Dale confirmed the underground vault where the electrical panels are located keep flooding and need to be relocated. In addition, GDOT plans to repair and upgrade 730 lights to LEDs.

The relocation and the upgrade are expensive. Atlanta News First Investigates obtained Georgia Power’s $3.1 million estimate with an annual $153,650 maintenance fee.

GDOT asked Georgia Power for a revised estimate, while working to identify a funding source.

Atlanta News First Investigates confirmed GDOT’s design policy manual states, “tunnels over 410-ft require daytime lighting for the length of the tunnel.” According to the department, the Georgia 400 tunnel at Buckhead is over 600 feet.

A GDOT 2022 accident report says out of 48 accidents reported to them on Georgia 400, 13 were in or near the tunnel.

Atlanta News First Investigates asked Dale about lighting requirements and safety concerns.

“We consider this enough of a safety issue that following conversations with Atlanta News First we looked at any temporary efforts that we can do warn motorists of the situation,” Dale said. “We reviewed what can be done between now and the completion of the long term lighting project. We will be installing signs this week that warn motorists of the need to use their lights when approaching this tunnel.”

Dale said the department has a timeline of between four to six months once they receive a revised estimate.


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