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David Pendered

Gee-whiz technology to help prevent future wintry weather traffic jams

By David Pendered

The next time wintry weather threatens Georgia’s roads, the state intends to have better equipment and strategies to handle the inevitable traffic problems.

The lack of adequate response to the wintry weather in 2014 prompted state officials to develop a new preparedness plan. Credit: David Tulis/Landov via cnn.com

The lack of adequate response to the wintry weather in 2014 prompted state officials to develop a new preparedness plan. Credit: David Tulis/Landov via cnn.com

Admittedly, this report on the state’s weather preparedness seems a little off tempo, given the spring storms this week and sunny forecast for the weekend. But the report is making the rounds, most recently in a presentation to the board of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Better knowledge and communication comprise the backbone of the response described by Meg Pirkle, director of operations for the Georgia Department of Transportation. Weather stations that monitor the surfaces of roads, and cameras, account for $11.5 million of the $14 million the state Legislature provided this year.

The price of other proposed enhancements was set at $13.4 million. That sum would provide $11.4 million worth of dump trucks and flatbeds, upgrade changeable signs to warn of danger ahead, and sundry other improvements.

Pirkle described a fair amount of gee-whiz technology that Georgia intends to implement:

  • Road weather information stations that monitor pavement temperature and surface salinity, “because we need to know if our treatment is working, or do we need to put more out there.”
  • Computer programs that track crises, “so we can track maintenance incidents, trees down, icy roads, impassable roads, and integrate it with 511.”
  • Upgrade changeable warning signs located at the state lines because, “they’re 20 years old and they don’t make parts anymore.”
State lawmakers have provided $14.5 million to upgrade Georgia's storm preparedness equipment. Credit: GDOT

State lawmakers have provided $14.5 million to upgrade Georgia’s storm preparedness equipment. Credit: GDOT

There’s no shortage of traditional responses, which include:

  • Establishing relations in advance of wintry weather with agriculture contractors and chain saw crews because, “DOT contractors don’t have the capacity to spread salt and brine.”
  • Build additional storage barns for salt adjacent to highways because, “luckily, Tennessee DOT sent us some salt. And we want to be able to help out when MARTA and other cities and counties need help.”
  • Buy some new trucks because, “since 2007 we haven’t been keeping up. Over half the fleet has over 200,000 miles. We had a lot of failure even though our mechanics were working around the clock.”

Gwinnett County Chairman Charlotte Nash asked Pirkle about ways to improve communications between local governments and GDOT.

“Could you expand on what steps will be taken to coordinate with local agencies that have major road systems themselves,” Nash said. “There are things we might could do in part of Gwinnett on the state routes.”

Pirkle responded that major improvements in communication have been established, particularly since the storm of 2011. For example, Pirkle said the local governments could get salt from the state to treat state routes. Then she indicated the communication plan hasn’t addressed every situation.

“After the first storm, Atlanta called and asked, ‘Will you treat the ramps, or will we treat the ramps?’ So, I think there’s room for improvement there.”

The weather preparedness program resulted from an executive order signed by Gov. Nathan Deal to respond to the weather crisis . The governor accepted a 37-page report from a task force with 32 members including the governor’s COO, meteorologist Ken Cook, MARTA CEO/GM Keith Parker, and Emily Lembeck, superintendent of the Marietta school system.

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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1 Comment

  1. tom Houck May 2, 2014 4:54 pm

    David  – Perhaps they should have used this technology this week, when all the local TV weather folks botched it on the “Severe Weather”.Report


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