Atlanta’s traffic congestion is bad enough when it is 75 degrees and sunny, but the entire nation has been watching just how awful it gets when we receive two inches of snow.
Clearly the region needs a better plan for winter storms. While the changes made after the 2011 ice storm helped by providing plenty of salt and snowplows this time, poor planning and policy decisions plagued the city this week.
Big storms are more than an inconvenience; they are an economic drain. Because the region couldn’t handle the weather, Georgia businesses are forecast to lose hundreds of millions of dollars. The negative publicity is a major black eye for the region. What Fortune 500 company wants to locate in a major metro area that cannot handle two inches of snow?
The first thing Georgia’s leaders need to do is stop blaming the weatherman. The state and city could create a winter weather advisory board of public sector, private sector, and winter weather experts to help advise government officials on when and how to take action. Schools and non-essential government offices should close immediately when a winter storm warning of this magnitude is issued. While this may result in a few false alarms and an extra ‘snow day’ every couple of years, it is a lot better than kids sleeping in buses.
In situations where weather warnings are issued midday, businesses and schools can stagger the release of their employees and students using a previously agreed upon schedule. All emergency personnel should be activated when a warning is issued so police can monitor employment centers and major highways, directing traffic and ensuring streets do not become blocked.
The state and city needs to be more proactive in closing schools and getting people home so the roads can be treated with salt and sand. Roads turned into ice sheets this week, in part, because clogged streets prevented sanding, salting and snow-plowing.
The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) should also consider pre-wetting the worst road surfaces instead of pretreating. Minnesota has found prewetting using calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and acetates is more expensive but also more effective than pretreating. More aggressively pretreating and prewetting before the storm would make deicing roads during the storms easier. During this past storm, as soon as GDOT treated a road it would refreeze.
Local governments do not have the tools to salt and plow all of their roads in a storm like this. But the private sector does. Many construction companies have large trucks perfect for treating side streets. Others have sand and salt. After the 2011 storm, legislation was passed to allow GDOT to team with the private sector to clear roads. A similar law should be introduced to allow local governments to enter into such partnerships.
Atlanta’s had two major storms in three years. It’s time for state and city leaders to realize better transportation planning is vital for the region’s safety.
Baruch Feigenbaum is a transportation policy analyst for the Reason Foundation. This column originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution