I have the privilege of volunteering for TEAM Georgia, a safe and sober driving coalition that signs up people to pledge not to drink and drive. TEAM Georgia is at every event at the Infinite Energy Center in Gwinnett, getting event attendees to take the oath and not drink alcohol that night. For doing so, they receive a free soft drink coupon, by the way. But I digress.
One gentleman and I struck up a conversation at this past Sunday’s Smashing Pumpkins concert. No, it wasn’t about Billy Corgan’s nasally voice either. When he found out my vocation as a WSB Traffic Team reporter and author of this column, our talk pivoted to Atlanta traffic.
He started with a statement I will paraphrase and edit for content: “Let me tell you how much the DOT (stinks)!”
I immediately retorted that I knew the people running GDOT and that while we disagree on how some things go, there is a group of really talented and dedicated people at the helm. To undergird my statement even more, I explained how I know GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry and how responsive both he and the rest of his team are when we notice problems from the WSB Skycopter and the WSB 24-Hour Traffic Center.
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But this man didn’t let up. “Oh — the commissioner (stinks)!” I questioned him after that and realized he meant his county commissioner, to whom he had complained about a traffic issue. According to him, the county had been unresponsive to his queries, or at the very least, they had not given him the answer he wanted. But when I said I knew the commissioner, he immediately assumed it was his and not the state’s.
I bring this up because we live in a society full of finger-pointing, complaining, and ranting. Whether via calls, social media, emails, or snail mail, government can hear from its constituency more easily than ever. But with that ease comes volume: the comment pile is big. As someone who deals often with customer service in my job, I can tell you that the feedback that is well thought out and constructive receives far more consideration.
This relates heavily to one’s advocacy about their commute. As local officials sift through comments about stop lights, potholes, bad signage, or any other road-related problem, they have to prioritize their responses. If a citizen doesn’t know the right person to complain to, they hurt their chances of getting the proper attention.
If a problem is very localized — on a small street without a highway number, for example — the state won’t be handling it. Either the county or city will handle the potholes or trees on that street. If a road has a highway number, either a state or U.S. route, then check with the state DOT first. Counties and cities may handle those, but the state is often aware of issues.
Some complaints may seem like they fall under GDOT’s umbrella, but the flow chart is more complicated. Take the I-85 HOT lanes in Gwinnett. They came into being because of a federal grant that stipulated certain characteristics about them. The State Road and Tollway Authority actually manages the lanes, while the Department of Public Safety/Georgia State Patrol handles enforcement. GDOT just handled construction and takes care of certain repairs. If one is upset about something with those lanes, they help their case by pinging the right department.
Now, this jurisdictional confusion is not straightforward in the least. The general public may spend more time trying to navigate the bureaucratic waters than the size of the delays their traffic problems cause. This may mean a complaint ends up in the wrong public servant’s hands, which is very understandable. This gives even more credence to the idea of being civil, informed, specific, and thoughtful in the feedback. Messages completely in ALL CAPS and with “misspeld wirds” also garner less consideration.
When you play the blame game with your commute, do it amicably and with consideration of the difficulty in fixing the problem. Before throwing a named official under the bus, research if they are even the one to blame. Play the traffic blame game the right way.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com .