Why Gwinnett traffic wasn’t as bad during this week’s storm

Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this article.

If your Gwinnett County commute Tuesday wasn’t quite as nightmarish as those of your metro Atlanta neighbors, you owe Mother Nature a really nice fruit basket.

Warmer temperatures and a later start to the snowfall helped keep the roads northeast of Atlanta clearer of ice, snow and traffic. But it’s all relative.

“Don’t get me wrong, (Gwinnett) was still congested,” said Todd Long, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation. “But it just wasn’t as bad.”

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, it was 30 degrees in Lawrenceville in central Gwinnett County. At the same time, it was 24 degrees in Atlanta and even colder to the west in Cobb County. Even into the evening, Gwinnett stayed warmer.

While snow quickly turned to ice on Atlanta roads, the process in Gwinnett happened more slowly. And that meant less traffic congestion and easier access to salted and sanded roads. Gwinnett put about 18 spreaders for salt and sand into action — more spreaders than Cobb or DeKalb and more than half as many as the city of Atlanta.

“You still should have had some issues, because you were below freezing, but it may not have occurred until later, and certainly not at the same rate,” National Weather Service meteorologist Keith Stellman said.

Connie Georges, who sent her employees home early, was driving in Lawrenceville Tuesday afternoon. She said at 3 p.m. even the side roads had little ice.

“Coming down, there was a lot of snow. It looked kind of like a little mini blizzard, but the roads were still great,” she said. “As soon as it was hitting down, it was pretty much melting on the roads.”

The snow started later in Gwinnett. The first National Weather Service reports of significant snow accumulation came in around 5 p.m. in the county, about five hours later than Atlanta, Stellman said. That meant less time for snow to build up on roads.

Gwinnett wasn’t exactly spared by the storm. From about 6 p.m. Tuesday until well into Wednesday, county officials reported widespread icy conditions. Traffic came to a stop on major local roads at times Tuesday evening. And between Tuesday noon and Wednesday noon, county police responded to 401 accidents, 415 road hazard calls, and 185 motorist-assist calls.

“I think we did a good job in responding to the storm,” county Transportation Director Kim Conroy said. “We gave it all we had.”

The county also fared better with its children. Gwinnett County Public Schools is the largest district in the state, with more than 168,000 students. Some other metro area school districts dismissed students early Tuesday, but Gwinnett students got out at their regular times.

Still, all students were home by 9:30 p.m., Gwinnett schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said.

Wilbanks said Gwinnett traffic was worst Tuesday in Duluth and Norcross, which even on a clear day are more congested than other areas of the county. He said schools and businesses that let out early contributed to the traffic.

“Obviously, the congestion in those areas (Duluth and Norcross) was much greater than what we would have thought early, and I think that’s because a lot of people got off work early,” he said.