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Oglesby: Was bike race worth trouble and expense?

POSTED: May 27, 2008 5:00 a.m.

From all reports, the Tour de Georgia bicycle race was a big promotional success for the local community. That doesn’t mean, however, the overall total taxpayer cost wasn’t huge and no room was left for improvement from the citizens’ viewpoint.

I had a forced wait of more than a half-hour at a key intersection and used the time to watch what was happening, ask questions of officers and of other stranded drivers how it affected them. It was fascinating. Some examples:

I was bringing my handicapped brother-in-law home from a dental appointment on Enota Avenue as I approached the Cleveland Highway intersection. I was five cars from the red light when officers waved Enota traffic to a halt.

After several minutes of light changes and no movement through the intersection, the man in front of me went to ask the officer what was going on. I got out and waited for him at his car to learn also. The bikers were supposed to come through and for safety the road had to be closed.

Every so often, several law enforcement vehicles from city police to state patrol would pass, sirens blaring. Occasionally they’d be accompanied by two to four motorcycles with Tour de Georgia signs on them, traveling about 30 mph. No sign of approaching bicycles. Before it was over, literally dozens of law enforcement vehicles passed at slow speeds, sirens blaring.

I asked one of the officers at the intersection why cars couldn’t be individually waved through the intersection when nothing was in sight. He sent me to the officer in charge of the intersection who was about 100 yards north. He politely told me he was following orders from on high.

Returning to my car, I saw Enota toward the hospital totally clogged and blocked as far as I could see. A long school bus had tried unsuccessfully to turn around. Some cars between us had managed to turn fully or partially around but were blocked. Three student-filled school buses that could go nowhere were in sight.

As I walked toward the first school bus, a number of drivers asked me what was going on. I related what I had been told. Responses and opinions weren’t very kind.

I had gotten almost to the Smoky Springs facility when it struck me. What if a fire broke out or a resident needed emergency medical care? No way could a vehicle get through from either direction. Sure enough, a few minutes later when I again was standing at the intersection, siren blaring, an ambulance from out of county tried to turn at Enota to the hospital but the officer waved it off. How it eventually got there I have no idea, for I don’t know how other intersections were being handled. I was thankful I didn’t need emergency medical care.

I then walked down Enota toward the school bus asking drivers who asked what was going on where they were headed. Answers varied. One elderly couple from Dahlonega was on the way to a doctor’s appointment and already was late. Another person was on the way to the dental office I had left a half-hour earlier. Various others had appointments, were headed to pick up children, etc.

Finally, a car with a loudspeaker passed slowly, announcing the racers were at Riverbend and would pass soon. They arrived about 10 minutes later and were the first racing conveyances I’d seen all afternoon. It took them about 20-30 seconds to pass and police finally opened the intersection.

In summary, at least 30 state patrol cars and double that of local enforcement vehicles passed. Four officers were visible from where I was. If other similar intersections were similarly staffed, I couldn’t imagine how many officers were involved, how much overtime taxpayers were paying or how many communities may have had their officers temporarily diverted, leaving them vulnerable to burglary or other crimes.

I mused about lost individual income or expense. For example, say a workman whose time is billed out at $80 an hour was on a call and blocked as I was. Time is his living. That time was lost forever, or if it were billed as en route, how much did it cost a customer ultimately paying for the wait?

From what I saw and conversations I had, no reason was apparent that cars couldn’t be waved through the intersection on an individual basis when Tour vehicles and bikers weren’t even in sight. At least the jam wouldn’t have been as severe, and though crowded, Enota (and presumably other side streets) could be navigable, especially important for emergency vehicles.

Some more comprehensive planning is needed before the community does it again.

Competition for local officers will be scarce this election year. While most of us disagree with some votes, actions and positions our unopposed incumbents have taken, most of us also have felt that overall they have done a pretty good job. Sadly, it doesn’t look like the lieutenant governor and House speaker are going to call a political truce.

Unless one of them plays statesman, or local officials are persuasive, it looks like Hall County and even Northeast Georgia will lose the coveted highway board seat. That will cost us, though not necessarily the leaders who gave it away.

Ted Oglesby is retired opinion page editor. Reach him at P.O. Box 663, Gainesville, GA 30503. His column appears biweekly.



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