Snow Jam 2014

My commute home Tuesday: 9½ hours.

I know that my travel home turned out to be less than some and more than others, but in the Atlanta landscape of excuses and ice, I can tell you that my travel might probably turn out to be around average.

From this, I can tell you Gov. Nathan Deal deserves to lose his job along with several other government officials.

Blame the forecasters, if you will. Meteorology isn’t an exact science, but as the time gets closer, the forecasts get more accurate.

I knew this one would be a bad one.

With the light 1-3 inches line intersecting the Atlanta area, it seemed obvious to me that Atlanta itself was in the cross-hairs of a potential storm.

Further, Atlanta is a city where people panic when it rains. A few flurries and chaos reigns. The fact government officials seemed to ignore this just baffles me.

But even I went into work, seemingly against my own better judgment, lamenting what I guessed would be a 3½- to 4-hour commute home. I’d done this kind of thing before in Washington, D.C., when storms hit mid-day and work let out, just as it had here.

But with other major cities, the difference came in how government officials reacted.

In my 9½ hours on (and off) the Interstates, I would see one and only one official vehicle.

A Traffic Jam of Anarchy

No authorities were in charge. I could have gotten home much sooner if I’d just done what the others on the road did.

  • Drive in Emergency Lanes.
    I’ll admit I was too much of a law-abiding citizen to try this one out, convinced around the next corner would be a police cruiser. But I watched hundreds of vehicles do this dastardly act. They got ahead. I stayed behind. In line.
  • Disobey Traffic and Lane Laws.
    At one point, I bailed on the Interstate then re-entered it because the surface streets were multiple times worse. I stayed in my proper lane that was going straight onto an on-ramp. Several hundred cars got ahead by using a left-turn only lane and went straight onto an on-ramp.

Beyond that, let me tell you why the authorities are to blame for this nightmare.

What Went Wrong

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed seems to think the biggest error was letting everyone out of work, school and government around the same time. Even the Georgia Department of Transportation spokesperson Natalie Dale compared the interstates and roads to a 16-ounce bottle that just had 20 ounces of liquid poured into it.

Nice try, y’all.

Eventually, some officials would say the tractor trailers became an issue because the 18-wheelers lost traction in the snow and ice.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

And someone made the point of failures to pre-treat the roads with the 70 pieces of equipment the Georgia DOT has on hand. While Mayor Reed said he started at 9 a.m. with his effort — about three hours before the storm hit — no word from the Georgia DOT when it started on the thousands of miles of Georgia highways.

Choke-Point-1Choke Point #1

With the slight incline as the I-285 and I-75 merge occurs just before Windy Hill exit, multiple tractor trailers got stuck in the middle of the road.

Let me explain the scene when I finally arrived at this location around 9 p.m. And by the way, I first got near this location around 3 p.m. It took me six hours to get into the heart of the area.

Dozens of people were walking around. They would walk from rear-drive vehicle to rear-drive vehicle and push them until each would get enough traction to move along. No less than two dozen tractor trailers littered the span of the incline across the multiple lanes. Cars of all sort were left abandoned all over as well.

Idiots, not familiar with how to drive on snow and ice, would gun their engines on snow and ice. Those vehicles would just slide left or right and suddenly gain traction and speed, then spin out. Lucky drivers would slam on the brakes to avoid hitting someone else successfully. Other ones, not so much.

I’d just ease off my brakes and let my automatic drive take me forward.

Luckily, I had plenty of tread on my tires, properly inflated tires and plenty of gas in my Prius.

Weaving through what seemed like giant traffic cones going about 6 mph in this frozen wasteland, I emerged the other side to nothingness.

Had officials found a way to make to this choke point, they would have been able to resolve many issues. But no flashing lights. No one except extraordinarily brave or extremely stupid people walking around on the icy snow.

I would then drive a few miles unimpeded.

Choke-Point-2Choke Point #2

When I reached my next major jam, I knew a little bit more about what to do. It was finally here when I would see my first HERO unit (in Georgia, Highway Emergency Response Operation vehicles to provide assistance to motorists that have trouble or at accidents).

As the HERO passed several lanes over, I watched several dozen vehicles use it as a way to get ahead of others. The conga line of vehicles followed the HERO and made it close to impossible for anyone else to budge, making the jam much worse.

When I inched forward, I would find almost exactly what I saw down at the I-75/I-285 merge.

And the HERO unit was no where to be seen.

I inches through the mess and, then, for the next 15 miles or so, I was home free.

No treated  interstates. No officials. Nothing. Just me and a few other cars.

Of those 70 spreaders/plows plus everyone else, nothing to be seen. No where. I drove on untreated roads all the way home.

The Lie

Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden
Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden

The officials were saying that it was all the traffic on all the Atlanta roads and they couldn’t get to the problem areas. That’s a bold-faced lie.

Are you listening, Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden?

Very easily, enter the Interstate from Canton Road Connector NE (Highway 5) and travel the wrong way to the jam (few people were on the road) and they could reach the problems at Exits 253 and 255.

Once that got cleaned up, head south to the I-75/I-285 mess.

But none of the vehicles were anywhere near there.

Lessons Learned

This wasn’t just a mistake or two. It wasn’t the “perfect storm.” This whole experience was incompetence. I never imagined I’d agree with Al Roker, but I do.

Imagine if we’d had a real crisis. Imagine something like a terrorist attack. Our government officials would have failed. Miserably.

The lesson I take away:

Fire them. All.

Published by

Michael Cheek

With more than 20 years of communication experience, Michael Cheek offers solid marketing expertise, especially in the digital frontier. He currently resides in Georgia but he's open to relocate anywhere the opportunities take him. Learn more at http://MichaelCheek.com. You can follow him on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/MichaelCheek and see more about his professional experience at http://LinkedIn.com/in/MichaelCheek. Reach him via e-mail at mcheek@gmail.com.

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