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Wednesday, January 19, 2011 - 8:44am

DOT Chief: "We Did A Pretty Good Job"

State Department of Transportation officials met the assembled media in Atlanta Wednesday to address its response and work during the crippling snow and ice storm that hit the state last week.

DOT Commissioner Vance Smith said the agency as a whole "did a pretty good job" in treating and clearing interstates and roads during a multi-day stretch. The winter storm moved into Georgia the evening of January 9th and covered two-thirds of the state. Its effects were felt late into the week.

Smith said the DOT's full staff of more than 2,000 employees worked 12-hour shifts. He gave the workforce an A+.
"Our employees did everything they possibly could", Smith said. "Only 48 hours after the storm ended, 99 percent of our roads were at least passable. But we know we can improve our overall response."

Criticism built up over the course of the week that the DOT wasn't quick enough to get to areas of north Georgia most adversely affected. In particular, metro Atlanta's interstate system was plagued by numerous backups -- often with tractor-trailers jack-knifed on icy roadways.

“Could we do better? Absolutely, we can always do better. We’re going to always strive to do better. Employees got an A-plus, anything went wrong, it was my responsibility. This is where the buck stops right here.”

Both Smith and State Transportation Board Chairman Rudy Bowen addressed the particular issue of long backups on interstates -- often due to jack-knifed trucks.

“We have to be more readily available to move that out of the way quickly than what was done", said Bowen. As far as move those tractors and trailers, bring in more assets from the private sector to be sure those wreckers are in place to get them off the system.”

Bowen said for the next big weather event, part of the upgraded plan will include having more private contractors on standby.

Bowen Wednesday however did put some of the responsibility on truck drivers to be better informed of a region's impeding bad weather, and to alter routes as necessary. Smith said the DOT worked closely with the Georgia Motor Trucking Association to get the word out. He also pointed to numerous electronic message boards as being utilized for alerts.

Smith said this storm cost $5.5 million in materials, equipment and worker hours. That total does not include private contractors hired to assist.

Going forward, Smith said some of the improvements officials will look at include altering employee shift changeovers, locating materials like sand, salt and gravel closer to trouble spots, and establishing a closer partnership with outside contractors.

As for having enough money left in its coffers to handle the next winter storm event, Smith said officials hope collections from the motor fuel tax stay strong to help fortify the winter season portion of the budget.