By Billy Corriher
The National Weather Service is predicting that Clayton County will experience its first freezing temperatures tonight, but local transportation officials have been preparing for winter weather for a month.
Department of Transportation Engineer Buddy Gratton, who oversees the DOT's metro Atlanta area, said his employees began stocking road clearing materials and training their employees to de-ice state highways and interstates in October.
The metro Atlanta district, which already has the highest traffic density in the state, experiences much more accidents in inclement weather, particularly on bridges and overpasses, Gratton said.
Wayne Patterson, director of Clayton County Transportation and Development, said his team has been following its own late-fall routine, which includes testing inclement weather equipment and stocking chemicals like salt and chloride.
Patterson said his department, which is in charge of clearing all county roads, has a particularly hard time clearing roads when drivers attempt to drive despite bad road conditions. "If it's bad enough that you have people sliding and ending up in ditches. It really creates a hardship for us," he said. "Then we have to split our forces to help people who are stuck."
One steep hill on Lake Harbin Road is notorious for being difficult to drive on in bad weather, Patterson said.
DOT spokesman Mark McKinnon said his department usually tries to keep drivers off the road completely by getting the word out to the public early before most commuters begin their drive. "We really encourage people to stay off the road when there's a snow or ice event," he said.
If bad weather occurs while commuters are at work and have to leave, it can be an even more frustrating disruption of traffic. "If it happens during the day, that can be a real headache going home," McKinnon said.
But Gratton said that if snow, or more likely ice in Georgia, hits the area, commuters can probably count on a longer drive no matter what the DOT does. "Certainly, it always takes people a lot longer to get home when there's ice on the road," Gratton said.