Snow Still Crippling Atlanta

Local DOT officials focus on clearing major roadways

LAWRENCEVILLE — In Lori Schoeck’s neighborhood, cars would reach the top of a hill and begin to slide down again.

So with Department of Transportation crews busy trying to clear ice from interstates and major roads this morning, men grabbed their shovels and tried to clear the cul-de-sacs themselves.

“We just have to realize the roads are going to be blocked for a few days,” Schoeck said of the delay on clearing local roads. “It only happens every once in a while. I don’t want the county to spend money on equipment they will only use every five years or so.”

Overnight freezes have made it hard for state and county road crews to get ahead of the ice, despite working round-the-clock.

It’s kept people indoors and school buses from the streets, causing Gwinnett County Public Schools to cancel classes for the fourth day in a row.

“It has always been Gwinnett County DOT’s philosophy to try to concentrate our limited resources on major roadways,” Gwinnett DOT Director Brian Allen said in a press release. “We are committed to do our best on major arterials and collector streets.”

The residential streets will have to wait, officials say.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has done all it can to clear the interstates and some major four-lane state highways, such as Ga. Highway 316 and U.S. Highway 78. But crews haven’t even begun to clear some of the two-lane state highways, as of Wednesday afternoon.

“We work in descending order,” state DOT spokeswoman Teri Pope said, adding that the crews try to get at least one lane clear in each direction on the most highly trafficked roads. “(Wednesday), with the sun and wind helping us, we hope to have all of the lanes clear before you go home (on roads like 316).”

Interstate 85 ramps around Pleasant Hill Road gave crews the biggest headache over the past several days, Pope said.

“There was so little traffic on it. We had a very difficult time breaking through the ice build-up,” she said.

With people starting to venture out on Wednesday, Pope said clusters of accidents — most of them multi-vehicle — got in the way of the progress, but temperatures are expected to rise today and help the situation.

Pope’s northeast Georgia district, which includes much of the mountains as well as Gwinnett and Barrow, is usually one of the worst hit in winter weather storms. But while the snow that hit Sunday piled higher in the north, it was the ice in metro Atlanta that has caused the majority of the road woes. Interstates 285 and 75 were closed Wednesday, as crews continued to try to get a handle on the situation.

“The closer you get into metro Atlanta, the worse it gets,” she said. “In some areas, it was two inches thick with ice.”

For the past four days, the district has had 275 employees on call, with 104 snow plows with 94 spreader attachments to combat the ice.

Gwinnett’s transportation department has had 35 employees handling work with five trucks with snow plows working during a daylight shift, as well as six motor graders and 15 sand/salt spreaders. During an overnight shift, eight employees have been manning four trucks with snow plows and three sand and salt spreaders. In addition, up to four traffic signal crews have worked around the clock on emergency traffic signal outages.

Residents can watch streaming video from the county’s Traffic Control Center at http://www.gcsmartcommute.com.

As much as they can, local cities have tried to pitch in.

In Lawrenceville, the city made use of this year’s purchase of a sand spreader.

“(Before), we’ve always had two men on the back of a truck with a shovel,” said Utilities Director Jim Steadman.

Using tips from the police on where the worst areas are, the crew has worked around the clock on high priority areas, like the hospital, Steadman said.

“We do what we have to do,” he said of taking over on county and state streets when those crews can’t get to the trouble spots quickly. “We just try to do our best together.”

Suwanee has no major snow removal equipment, just a Bobcat and a tractor with a snow plow attachment. So leaders called on a contractor to help out with the road conditions. The crew worked overnight Sunday.

“You could see blacktop Monday morning despite the seven inches of snow,” said public works supervisor Scott Moretz said. “We knew the snow was going to come first and would be followed by freezing rain and sleet. We wanted to remove the snow as quickly as possible and attack the ice later.”

Crews went through 15 pallets of salt — the equivalent to what the city uses in two years — during a daytime shift Monday, when the snow turned into freezing rain. Despite the difficulties of the ice refreezing each night, the city is doing what it can.

“We want to keep the city safe,” Moretz said. “That’s our main goal.”

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