Lee: School, work traffic turned loose, impeding work crews
by Nikki Wiley
January 29, 2014 08:00 PM | 7151 views | 13 13 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Marietta High School juniors Jimmie Hill and Cameron Heck, and sophomore Alexis Bowers, wait patiently with the other remaining students Wednesday for their parents and buses to arrive take them home after spending Tuesday night at the school. <br>Staff/Todd Hull
Marietta High School juniors Jimmie Hill and Cameron Heck, and sophomore Alexis Bowers, wait patiently with the other remaining students Wednesday for their parents and buses to arrive take them home after spending Tuesday night at the school.
Staff/Todd Hull
MARIETTA — Cobb Chairman Tim Lee didn't expect a five-hour drive home when he arrived in downtown Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon for an awards gala.

But when he emerged from the Georgia Trend luncheon at the Georgia Aquarium, attended also by Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, he found a metro Atlanta highway system that was gridlocked and learned Cobb's streets were also overwhelmed by a mass exodus of workers and school children trying to beat the snow storm home.

Very few won that race.

"Everybody that had left their home in the morning, scattered, left their office or wherever they were all at the same time across the entire region," Lee said. "It seemed like every office, every company, everybody that had a kid, everybody got on the roads all at the same time. It was just pure congestion."

Snow began to fall in Cobb at about 10:10 a.m. on Tuesday, but Lee said it wasn't until early afternoon that he realized the storm would be more than what he planned for.

“(Meteorologists) were telling us as it was happening,” Lee said. “It's not like we were given a whole lot of warning.”

Initial forecasts, Lee said, predicted that areas north of Interstate 20 would just see a light dusting of snow, but that quickly proved false as 2 to 2.5 inches fell across the metro area on Tuesday.

County response extends into Wednesday

Since Tuesday, the Cobb Department of Transportation has spread more than 300 tons of salt, sand and gravel on the county's roads, but that response came too late for some drivers who were already stuck in impassable traffic on busy thoroughfares like Interstate 75 and Cobb Parkway.

Lee said Cobb's public works department readied its fleet of nine trucks capable of distributing gravel mixtures along dangerous roads, but by the time those vehicles made their way into traffic, navigating through hordes of unmoving vehicles proved almost impossible.

"That's what I think basically caused the biggest issues," Lee said.

And as the afternoon turned to night, motorists already facing treacherous conditions were met with an even more dangerous task of traveling home safely on the icy roads.

"Once it became ice, it became very challenging," Lee said.

Cobb public works crews and law enforcement officials worked through the night into Wednesday afternoon attempting to get stranded vehicles off the roads to make way for salt trucks.

"There are people at other people's homes that can't get home because they abandoned their cars," Lee said.

Lee declared a state of emergency in Cobb on Wednesday, following the lead of Gov. Deal, who did the same on Tuesday.

That allows County Manager David Hankerson more authority to work on private property to remove stranded vehicles, Lee said, and could help the county's case if it were to seek federal or state funding to cope with the aftermath of the storm.

Lessons to be learned

Lee said Cobb learned from the 2011 ice storm that paralyzed metro Atlanta and purchased new snow equipment.

He expects Cobb to also learn from this week's storm and re-evaluate how weather emergencies are handled in the future, but Lee said Wednesday the county was still trying to take care of the problems that remained on the roads before looking forward.

"We learned a lot in the last ice storm and we implemented that, and we learned a lot here," Lee said.

Lee anticipates a debriefing to take place with county departments later this week.

Traffic woes weren't exclusive to the county. Municipalities also faced hurdles.

"We've got the same issues as everybody else," said Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood. "We've got a lot of roads that just are not passable."

Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon is one of the few metro residents who avoided Tuesday's traffic nightmare and stayed home.

Though he praised the coordination between the city's public works department and public safety officials, he said more conversations between governments and the business community may help prevent the same dangerous situation from occurring again.

"Our roads were as good as they can be and I think that we learned from this a little bit," Bacon said.

Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin spent three hours driving from the Square to his home in Whitlock Heights before he abandoned his car, which was unable to travel up the neighborhood's hills.

He, too, pointed to the timing of the snow as a challenge.

"When it hits at midday, when it hits like it did at 10 o'clock, it's hard to get as much sand out," Tumlin said.

Still, he looked for the silver lining and recalled seeing drivers helping others push their cars from the road and offering weary strangers a place to sleep.

"I think most people stayed calm and courteous," Tumlin said.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Pro Middle Class
February 03, 2014
Making half your voters mad bringing in the Braves

Leaving the rest of them stuck in their cars for hours because you weren’t prepared.


January 30, 2014
Besides the fact snow causes problems in our area no matter what, this whole mess started when ALL the metro school systems decided to roll the dice and START school on Tuesday morning. This started a domino affect. The metro schools not only started school, they called for a dismissal that was way too late...not at 10:00 AM, but 12:30 for the first load. The school systems wanted to make sure that every elementary, middle and high school went at least half a day so they would receive their reimbursement from the state. Money & Greed rules.

And let's go back to Jan. 7th & 8th, when Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb, Cherokee, Paulding, Gwinnett Counties called off school and the reason given was it was COLD. It was NOT snowing. And the school systems said they had rather "err on the side of safety for the students."

School Superintendents & your Cabinet- So the local & national weather forecasters predicting 1-3 inches of snow for several days and issuing a Winter Weather Advisory during the 11:00PM news the night before is not something that could cause the students to be in danger while they were being transported by a school bus or walking home or middle & high school students arriving home to a household where their parents do not arrive for over 24 hrs? THAT IS NOT PLACING THE STUDENTS IN DANGER? Right.
Just Wait
January 30, 2014
The Governor and various Mayors cannot force schools to close early or not have classes, cannot force private businesses not to open or close early or stagger the times people leave when an event like Tuesday happens. If anything is to be learned from it, it is that all these "fiefdoms" need to find a way to work together in the best interest of the citizens. But with Congress as an example, it will never happen.
Voter Call to Action
January 30, 2014
Lee is the same Government representative who thinks he is competent enough to manage a new stadium deal and all the complexities that that entails. If he and the rest of his colleagues aren't held accountable at election time for this most recent debacle its the citizens of Cobb's own fault.

Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Chairman Tim Lee It s going to be a long night
Not Again
January 30, 2014
I agree with Disbelief too. The comments from Lee and all the other so-called leaders reminds me of the New Orleans government excuses after Katrina. Deny, deny, deny. The weather forecasters let you know in time. From the Governor and Mayors all the way down to local school administrations should accept the responsibility for not closing the schools and keeping the children safe. There will be elections, eventually. Remember this, voters.

January 30, 2014
This was a very accurately predicted snowfall. If there was any prediction error, it was that the snow started a few hours later than expected, which should have given officials even MORE time to be prepared. The mess on Johnson Ferry Road at the river could have been avoided by even one run of a salt truck up and down the hill in advance. Ditto with many other places. To say 'meteorologists didn't give a lot of warning' just isn't accurate. And blaming 'hordes of unmoving vehicles' for blocking your public works trucks is almost amusing. Let's REALLY learn from this, and avoid it all the next time.
Scott Murray
January 30, 2014
Funny to see Commissioner Lee towing the "government line" of Deal and Reed... "We did not know" it would happen so soon". I am wondering why he is not getting as much heat as those too as Cobb was as bad if not worse then ATL.
Blame forecasters
January 30, 2014
Governor Deal and the GDOT dropped the ball big time on this one. This was as bad as it gets and Deal and his crowd didn't seem to have a clue what to do. A quick check of the radar and hour by hour forecast would have told them Atlanta would be hit. All the weather forecasts were dead right as far as snow throughout the metro around noon. A little salt on the interstates beforehand might have prevented a lot of pain and agony on Tuesday and Wednesday.

(I hope this is how they will react when they find out climate change is real, just blame it on the forecasters.)
January 29, 2014
With the metro area under a winter storm watch, why did Lee, Reed And Deal think they should be at a banquet on Tuesday instead of in their respective offices?
January 30, 2014
The weather storm watch was cancelled for Cobb on Monday night...
Disbelief too
January 29, 2014
Funny, when I got up around 6 AM the weather advisory had been changed to a winter storm warning for Cobb with 1 - 2 inches of snow expected! It showed the timing as expecting snow to start around 11:00 AM! I do not understand how every official managed to miss that forecast or act on it and they keep pointing to the forecast the night before! Do they not look at stuff or have staff that do?? And now I see why Deal, Reed, Lee, etc didn't have a clue earlier....they were busy accepting awards while chaos was erupting in their city, county, state.
January 30, 2014
But I guess there is no public safety crisis in Cobb. There were not enough police or fire personnel to respond to important incidents and 911 was busy several times. Major failures occurred and some were preventable. I didn't see the first salt truck until 6am on Wednesday. Kirk Mellish got it right, but I guess no one on Cherokee Street cared.
Diamond Jim
January 30, 2014
No, Kirk Mellish did NOT get it right. Tuesday morning he was still claiming the North Metro area and suburbs would see only a "light dusting" of snow.

This was one of those "perfect storm" situations like Snow Jam '82, which I remember well (then it took me 7 hours to get home from Midtown and our population has DOUBLED since then!) With everyone deciding to hit the road at once, we'd have seen total gridlock with dry pavement and sunshine! Stuff happens! Time to get over it, learn from it, and get on with life!
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