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Authorities play key role in keeping race safe, organized

Clearing route of people, cars takes planning, manpower

POSTED: May 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.
It involved more than 100 law officers from three agencies, the closing of more than 70 intersections along 19 miles of road, and a lot of flashing blue lights.

And with advance planning, constant communication and cooperation, it all went off without a hitch, officials said.

Clearing the Tour de Georgia Stage Three route of vehicular traffic in "rolling road closures," Hall County sheriff’s deputies, Georgia State Patrol troopers and Gainesville police officers kept traffic disruptions to a minimum with no reported problems Wednesday afternoon.

"There were minimal delays," Hall County Sheriff’s Maj. Jeff Strickland said, largely because of a plan to close and open segments of the route in three separate zones beginning at the Banks-Hall County line on Ga. 52. Most zones were opened and closed within 20 minutes.

"Everybody did an excellent job," Gainesville police Lt. Keith Lingerfelt said. "We’ve had meetings planning this event, and it went off as smooth as can be."

Along the rural route in East Hall, spectators dotted the sides of the road, many seated in lawn furniture with cameras at the ready. They waved at the lead vehicles that flashed blue lights. Four motorcycles took the point on both sides of the yellow center line, their drivers looking to keep any straying cars off the road as the whizzing pack of cyclists approached from a few miles behind.

"If someone pulls out of a driveway who doesn’t know about the race, that can cause problems," Strickland said.

Over the two-way radio, officers gave periodic updates on the location of the cyclists, starting from when they were two miles outside the county line. With the convoy ahead of schedule, the intersections leading into Zone 1 were blocked off by 2:05 p.m. and Zone 2 was closed 11 minutes later. By 2:27, the last cyclist had entered Hall County.

By 2:53, sheriff’s Capt. Donny Jarrard was telling deputies "good job" as their duties came to a close.

After 13 miles, Hall County sheriff’s deputies handed off road closure duties to their counterparts with the Gainesville Police Department at Riverbend Elementary School at Clarks Bridge Road and U.S. 129. Police took it the rest of the way, including three loops inside the city that ended at City Park.

It was the third time the Tour de Georgia started or stopped in Gainesville in six years, and senior sheriff’s and police commanders relied on past experience with the race and other large events to put together contingency plans.

The sheriff’s 10-page operational plan included everything from responding to bomb threats to providing a designated area for protesters. There was no need for either.

Lingerfelt, the police department’s designated commander for the event, said the planning and collaboration with other agencies translated to a smoothly run operation, even with a large gathering of spectators at the finish.

"Planning pays off," he said.



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