The snow and ice storm of 2011 was a lesson in humility for me and elected leaders across the metropolitan region. For three days, Mother Nature showed that even with today’s advancements, she can still bring a major American city to a standstill.
When I was growing up in southwest Atlanta, we celebrated the rare snow day that closed schools and businesses. That is no longer the case. Despite bad weather, our residents want to get back to work and move on with their lives. In Atlanta, we have the world’s busiest passenger airport and more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies. Metro Atlanta cannot afford to shut down for days in the midst of a major snowstorm.
Accordingly, I have directed city officials to develop a new, comprehensive storm response plan for the upcoming winter season. As always, our first priority during any inclement weather event is public safety. All residents should follow the advice of emergency responders and stay off the roads as much as possible. Simultaneously, the city and its dedicated staff will not wait to clear our streets.
The new plan calls for city employees to first remove snow and ice from bridges, major streets and routes to hospitals and public safety facilities. Next, we will focus on clearing minor roads and neighborhood streets.
Last year, jurisdictional boundaries slowed down cleanup response times. For example, several connectors such as Peachtree Road are state roads that normally fall within the maintenance purview of the Georgia Department of Transportation. This coming winter, we will put aside boundaries and jurisdictions. If there is a major street within city limits that needs to be cleared, city employees will take responsibility for it.
Last year’s storm taught local governments across the region the importance of collaboration and communication, and we will work together to get moving as fast as we are able.
We also have taken proactive measures and invested about $1 million to purchase new snow and ice equipment to prepare for inclement weather. Our total inventory now includes 44 snow plows and 35 sand spreaders, up from four plows and eight spreaders last year. We have pre-negotiated discounted rates with outside vendors if the city should need additional assistance beyond the expanded fleet of snowplows and salt spreaders. These investments and measures ensure that our roads will be cleared at a substantial cost savings compared to last year.
The combination of heavy snow, ice and subfreezing temperatures made the storm of 2011 one of the worst winter weather events Atlanta has experienced in the past two decades.
It’s fair to say we were overwhelmed when our roads were covered by thick sheets of ice that remained on the ground for too long. This year, however, residents and business owners should feel confident that the city of Atlanta is fully prepared for winter weather. We will work faster and smarter to deliver the kind of response that our residents demand and deserve.
Kasim Reed is the Mayor of Atlanta
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