In light of 'Snowjam,' road issues surface
by By Jessica Loeding,
Feb 11, 2014 | 952 views | 0 0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On Jan. 28, Marti Couey sat behind school buses along Highway 113 in a traffic nightmare created by winter weather that began that morning.

As she watched, a Bartow County Road Department truck passed by en route to a roadway from the county shop on Ladds Mountain Road. Couey said she was stunned when the driver declined to plow Highway 113 ahead of the vehicles.

“It doesn’t cost anything to run a plow,” she said.

But, according to BCRD Director Randy Gray, the explanation is not that simple.

Highway 113 is a state-maintained roadway, meaning the maintenance and clearing responsibilities fall to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

“... Bartow County clears the roads in a priority order so we can most rapidly reduce the number of stranded motorists and render aid with emergency vehicles. The first roads to be cleared are the major through-streets,” Gray said. “This allows the congestion to get moving and clears the intersections so we can then concentrate on clearing the secondary roads, which allows the largest number of motorists to get home. After that, we start clearing the rural roadways.

“The benefit to this style of operation is efficiency. Our trucks are traveling over the primary roads getting to the secondary and rural roads, meaning they can cover the reoccurring freeze events as they travel to the secondary and rural roadways. This saves time and money, and speeds up the process of getting everyone moving throughout the county road system.”

In events like the late January Snowjam, the road department is tasked with salting, sanding or plowing 856 miles of county roads. While the traffic ordeal in Bartow County did not touch the level of Atlanta, Couey said issues remained locally and questioned why the issue of who has rights to the roadway takes precedent over the safety of motorists, especially children on school buses.

Gray said the department had its hands full with county roadways and “trying to plow Highway 113 along the way would slow down our ability to get to county roads.”

“We do not maintain the GDOT routes because it is a separate entity that has its own tax budget to clear and maintain its roadway system. That is the division of responsibility in the road system,” he said. “It would require considerably more resources to maintain the state highway system.”

Georgia State Patrol troopers responded to more than 1,460 crashes between Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 28, and the following evening, and said more than 175 injuries had been reported across the state. Locally, troopers worked 83 crashes with seven injuries between 10 a.m. Jan. 28 and 11 a.m. Jan. 29.

Couey called for a re-evaluation of emergency plans, offering the idea of state reimbursement for county departments in cases like last week’s.

“We, as voters, need to get active and say we won’t stand for this again,” she said.

Under that scenario, however, Gray said more rural citizens may be left out in the cold.

“If all road clearing resources were centralized, in an event like last week’s, likely all the state trucks would have been sent to Atlanta and there would have been little to no coverage for the county’s roads,” he said. “The state takes responsibility and has the tax dollars to clear and maintain state highways, and we use our budget to clear and maintain county roadways.”