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Georgia DOT Commissioner Defends Snow Removal; Atlanta Mayor Hires Snow Removal Contractors | News

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Georgia DOT Commissioner Defends Snow Removal; Atlanta Mayor Hires Snow Removal Contractors
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Georgia DOT Commissioner Defends Snow Removal; Atlanta Mayor Hires Snow Removal Contractors

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Tuesday afternoon, approaching 48 hours since Sunday night's storm caused snow and ice to clog roads across half of Georgia, Georgia's Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance Smith said DOT workers are doing everything humanly possible to clear all the roadways.

"To motorists who think the roads should be clear by now, what do you say to them?" 11Alive News asked Smith.

"Be patient. There will always be a sunnier day than what we've had in the past couple of days."

Commissioner Smith said DOT crews had already spread 5,300 tons of salt and 7,000 tons of gravel on icy roads, and more salt and gravel has been ordered and is on the way.

Yet Interstate highways in Metro Atlanta, and many on and off ramps, along with state roads in Atlanta and across the rest of the northern half of the state, were still impassable and dangerous in some sections because densely-packed snow and ice had not been cleared.

"Is this the best that the DOT can do?"

"I think we're doing a great job, because we got great partners, we're partnering up with -- the City of Atlanta has been great to work with us, as well.... It's a great, concerted effort, and we're human beings. We're just tackling it as hard as we can."

Smith said the state's budget crunch has not hampered snow removal.

"Have you got all the personnel and equipment you need to get the job done?" 11Alive News asked.

"Yes, Sir, we're fine, we're working fine.... As far as the budget, there's no problem. We handled four or five instances last year. You deal with it. And we will deal with it. It'll be fine."

Smith was speaking just outside the office of Governor Nathan Deal, at the State Capitol. Smith and other leaders from the Governor's emergency response team -- GEMA Director Charley English, Col. William Hitchens of the Georgia State Patrol, and Major General Terry Nesbitt of the Georgia Department of Defense -- had just briefed the Governor on the impact of the snow and ice.

Tuesday was Gov. Deal's first, full day in office. Deal would not answer reporters' questions during a photo op at the beginning of the meeting.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Georgia DOT authorized the City of Atlanta to clear snow and ice from state roads that go through Atlanta, including the city's signature street, Peachtree Street, and other major thoroughfares such as Ponce De Leon Avenue, Northside Drive, Piedmont Avenue and Piedmont Road, Memorial Drive, and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

As it is, a popular Internet "Vimeo" video shows a man speed-skating on Peachtree St. in midtown Atlanta, between 11th and 14th Streets, which are also coated with ice.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told reporters Tuesday afternoon he held back from clearing Peachtree and the other state roads within Atlanta's city limits.

"Candidly, I was not immediately going to assume responsibilities of state roads, because it was in the city's interests to do the city's work, and in the state's interests to let the state do its work. But we're going to have a no-excuses administration, so if we mess up, we'll stick our chin out and take it."

In the future, Mayor Reed said, he's not going to wait for the state to clear state roads within Atlanta, he'd rather seek forgiveness from the state after the fact rather than wait for permission.

"I would move quicker to take custody for just anything that's in the city limits, and then have a conversation later about whether it was a city street or a state street."

Reed said the city knew late last week it would need more snow clearing equipment than it had.

So the city rented additional snow spreaders and blades, adding 12 to its fleet of 10.

And that, the mayor said, had been plenty to clear the amount of snow that fell in three previous winter storms.

He said the weather forecasters at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport had not foreseen how big Sunday night's storm would be and how early, that night, the snow would accumulate.

"One area I will acknowledge was a surprise to all of us was the quickness of the accumulation when the snow started. So that is the area, if we look back on this, where we think that we could have been more aggressive."

Other forecasters such as 11Alive's weather team had been predicting since last week that several inches of snow would fall on Metro Atlanta beginning Sunday night and that the snow would not melt for days.

Mayor Reed said that he realized Monday night, as temperatures remained below 32 degrees and slush on the roads was re-freezing, that the 22 pieces of snow removal equipment would not be enough.

By Tuesday afternoon, the city had hired three private contractors to add to the city's crews clearing snow, and, as a result, the fleet of snow removal equipment in operation around the clock stood at 58 snow spreaders and blades, with more on the way.

11Alive News asked Mayor Reed, "Could that equipment have been ordered yesterday (Monday), knowing what the forecast of the cold temperatures would be, knowing there would be a re-freezing, knowing you wanted to try to get ahead of this, could you be 24 hours ahead of the game, now?"

"I'd like to answer that. We actually had already doubled (the size of the fleet) 24 hours ahead of the game. It still wasn't enough.... We went from ten to double. It turns out that double wasn't enough, we did not anticipate that this was going to be one of the four biggest snows (in Atlanta) in ten years.... 58 pieces of equipment, candidly, isn't going to be enough. So what we're going to do is to continue to grow our force, until the citizens of Atlanta are satisfied."

Mayor Reed said the city had 500 tons of salt-gravel to spread on the roads, and is now down to 200 tons, primarily because of all the spreading that was required on Hartsfield-Jackson's runways. The city has ordered more.

Out of 200 miles of "Priority One" and "Priority Two" roads in Atlanta -- such as main roads that lead to hospitals and police and fire stations -- Reed said the city had, as of late Tuesday afternoon, cleared 150 miles of them.

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