Cities grapple with gridlock, snow

‘Frustrated’ crews respond to clogged traffic

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NORTH FULTON, Ga. – If you ever wanted to know what Atlanta’s roads looked like with every resident driving on them, Tuesday, Jan. 28 should give a glimpse. Schools, businesses and governments all shut down about the same time, turning workers out onto the streets at the same time.

Variously called “Snowmageddon,” “Snowpocalypse,” or “SnOMG,” local governments were quickly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of motorists on the road and the worsening conditions throughout the day. A commute that would normally take 20 minutes turned into a 10-, 14- or 20-hour drive.

Alpharetta had 50 Public Works Department employees begin salting the roads as the snow began on Tuesday, said Public Works Director Pete Sewczwicz.

Over the course of Tuesday and the following day, Sewczwicz said hundreds of tons of sand and salt were put down by workers working 12-hour shifts.

Unfortunately, as traffic grew, so did the problems.

“We had all our trucks ready to go,” he said. “Our problem is we couldn’t get anywhere once we treated it once.”

The worst intersections and bridges were hit first, however, with the sluggish lines of traffic, the salt trucks could not get to the hot spots quickly; nor could they return to those already treated. The trucks became as stuck as the traffic.

It’s a problem a frustrated Sewczwicz said was unavoidable.

“When cars are backed up and you cannot get your vehicles there to treat roads again,” he said, “and where people are stopped in snow and rain, you get ice. There’s nothing we can do with that. We were frustrated. Because of the saturation of traffic, we couldn’t do more.”

A solution showed itself later in the day as the salt trucks began using police cruisers as escorts to move traffic aside.

Conditions became so bad, local police departments refused to help stranded motorists or come to fender-benders.

“People didn’t know where to turn,” said Lisa Holland, with the Roswell Police Department.

911 call centers were busy with endless calls for help and police.

“We had to save our resources for the most serious calls,” Holland said. “In 30 years, I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Instead, people began opening their doors to the trapped motorists. Local Home Depot stores, schools and businesses provided shelter, as people began walking along the streets offering food or water. Local government buildings, such as fire stations, also provided shelter from the storm.

Milton’s Public Works Department hit the known trouble spots early on, such as hills or bridges that were sure to ice up quickly. Fire Chief Robert Edgar said Milton fared well despite the traffic.

“We responded to several calls of people who ran off the road,” Edgar said. “Eventually, we couldn’t pass the roadways due to traffic.”

Edgar said the city had no serious emergency calls during the storm, mainly fender-benders or people stuck on the side of roads.

In anticipation of the snow and ice, Milton deployed nearly double their normal number of firefighters and added another fire engine.