Drivers to see clearer roads Friday

Metro Atlanta drivers should be greeted by clearer roads and lighter-than-normal traffic today as they venture out in the aftermath of this week’s cataclysmic winter shutdown.

State transportation officials said most of the iced-slickened roads melted Thursday as temperatures inched to the upper 30s and salt and gravel was scattered over more of the region’s thoroughfares. Nevertheless, most of the public school systems decided to remain closed Friday as a safety precaution. That should contribute significantly to a quieter commute.

“Roads are clearing now, but we want people to give themselves time and be aware there are still some icy spots,” said Natalie Dale, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation. “But we’re headed for warmer weather and we are good ways down the other side of the mountain.”

Any lingering ice or snow should burn off entirely by day’s end. Channel 2 Severe Weather Team’s Chief Meteorologist Glenn Burns forecasts a sunny day with a high of 49 degrees, and an even warmer Saturday with temperatures easing into the mid-50s.

The crisis on Day 1 of the storm (Tuesday) was a system-wide paralysis of the interstates and state routes caused by the near-simultaneous departure of workers from offices intown and students from various school systems. Day 2’s dominant concern was getting jackknifed tractor-trailers cleared. On Thursday, the state’s primary effort was aimed at removing thousands of abandoned cars.

State troopers counted at least 2,029 abandoned cars that were still littering the interstates and Ga. 400 Wednesday evening, according to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. While GEMA did not expect to get a new count until late Thursday evening, officials agreed the situation was markedly improved.

Many motorists had returned to retrieve their cars throughout the day on their own initiative, said Crystal Paulk-Buchanan, a spokeswoman for GEMA. Others took advantage of help offered by state troopers, Department of Natural Resources officers, HERO truck operators and the National Guard to get rides back to their car in four-wheel-drive vehicles, as well as gas and battery jumps if needed.

After 9 p.m. state troopers were to begin towing away any abandoned vehicles left on the roadsides.

Drivers returning today to find their vehicle missing are advised to call 511 for information about where to retrieve it. By law, Georgia State Patrol can tag and tow a car left sitting on the interstate for more than eight hours, according to Dale.

“Knowing this is an extenuating circumstance, we’ve given a lot of time,” Dale said. “Past 9 p.m. (Thursday), it’s a safety issue to have a lot of abandoned cars still on the roadways.”

MARTA trains were running with 15-to 30-minute wait times Thursday, and bus service resumed on 32 selected routes. MARTA executives were still ironing out plans for rail and bus service frequency on Friday, and advised riders to check www.itsmarta.com for updates.

It was unclear if Xpress buses that suspended service Wednesday and Thursday would resume operations Friday. Matt Markham, a spokesman for Georgia Regional Transit, said “we are still evaluating road conditions in town and at our park and ride lots.” Go to http://www.xpressga.com/ for updated information.

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