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City: Action taken early, but traffic was beyond control
by Joan Durbin
jdurbin@neighbornewspapers.com
February 05, 2014 10:27 AM | 1001 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Anyone who wasn’t already on the road home by the time the first snowflakes fell on the morning of Jan. 28 was in jeopardy of having a long and taxing journey.

SnowJam 2014 caused almost as much havoc on surface streets in north Fulton as it did on interstates around the metro area.

And it wasn’t because cities here didn’t get a jump on enacting emergency plans for dealing with the hours-long snowstorm. Alpharetta opened its emergency operations center very early Tuesday and as the day wore on, staff made every effort to mitigate the effects of the snow on the traveling population.

“The city of Alpharetta handled this event extremely well. We were prepared, activated our command and control center early and deployed sufficient resources and staffing,” said Alpharetta’s public safety spokesman, Executive Officer George Gordon.

Alpharetta Assistant City Administrator James Drinkard agreed.

“I believe that, overall, Alpharetta responded to the situation well,” he said. “The No. 1 factor that affected our response was the gridlock on the local and regional road grid, and overcoming that issue will be a significant challenge given the number of cars that can quickly hit our roads when schools and large numbers of businesses close at the same time.”

Alpharetta’s public works crews began pretreating level 1 priority streets, primarily overpasses, bridges and low-lying/shaded areas, a little before 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning. “Our plan was to then revisit these areas periodically during the snow event to maintain the roadways,” Drinkard said.

But by 1 p.m. area roadways were packed with motorists. “While the vehicles were moving, the heat from the cars and the friction of their tires kept roadways from icing, but once the roads became gridlocked, icy patches began to form,” Drinkard said. “Our salt/sand trucks were stuck in the same traffic as everyone else and could not reach icing areas quickly enough.”

Soon, local streets began clogging due to sheer volume, but traffic was moving. “As citizens began searching for alternative routes away from main arterials like Ga. 400 and other state roads, local collectors became gridlocked. As ice developed on the roadways, we began to see an increase in traffic accidents, taking us further into a reactionary state,” Drinkard said.

Salt and sand trucks became dedicated to assisting public safety in reaching accidents and stranded motorists. Through the evening, police vehicles were paired with the trucks to move them through the area to locations that needed ice treatment.  Motorists would not allow the trucks to pass unless a police vehicle led the way, Drinkard said.

“We only had no control on one issue, to a degree. Traffic gridlocked occurred because of the volume of traffic that flowed into our city. Yet we looked after these people,” Gordon said. “Citizens spent the night in our headquarters and we bought them pizza and coffee.”

The Alpharetta Community Center also opened as a temporary shelter for stranded motorists.

Drinkard said the use of both traditional and social media as well as email to communicate updated information to the public was one of the things the city did best. Adjustment of response strategies as incident circumstances evolved was another.

The costs involved in responding to the snow event would not be fully calculated until later this week, city officials said.

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