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DOT readies for winter with salt barn
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A bulldozer carries a concrete block toward where other blocks are being stacked at a future winter staging area for the Department of Transportation. The area just off Interstate 985, where Hall County’s old welcome center was located, offers easy access for winter crews.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is taking advantage of some sunny, fall days to better respond as needed to frigid, snowy winter days.

Crews are working around the state, including at an old rest area/welcome center off Interstate 985 between Flowery Branch and Oakwood, to set up “staging areas” for road-clearing efforts.

The DOT is “looking at what happened last year and revamping its plans,” said Teri Pope, DOT district spokeswoman, referring to a series of winter storms that battered Georgia.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is taking advantage of some sunny, fall days to better respond as needed to frigid, snowy winter days.

Crews are working around the state, including at an old rest area/welcome center off Interstate 985 between Flowery Branch and Oakwood, to set up “staging areas” for road-clearing efforts.

The DOT is “looking at what happened last year and revamping its plans,” said Teri Pope, DOT district spokeswoman, referring to a series of winter storms that battered Georgia.

“By law, we have to keep interstates open and safe for use, so we’re trying to target easy places to put these staging areas.”

The Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau had operated a visitors center at the site from the 1996 Olympics until May 2010. The property has sat vacant since then.

So, when the state began scoping out sites for more staging areas, the I-985 land was “an easy choice,” Pope said.

“We own it and it’s adjacent to the interstate,” she said.

Workers have cleared a stand of trees and graded property for construction of a “salt barn,” basically heavy concrete blocks serving as the foundation for an arched roof, similar in style to a quonset hut.

“As needed, we will prestage equipment here before an event and refill here during an event,” Pope said.

She said the DOT’s winter weather plan is “being overhauled,” with the agency finalizing plans and coordinating them through Gov. Nathan Deal’s office and other state agencies.

Training will take place in late November, Pope said.

Snowstorms last year crippled traffic in and around Atlanta, leaving many motorists stranded on key interstates.

At one point during a storm that dumped about 5 inches of snow on parts of Hall County, snow removal efforts in the DOT’s Gainesville-based District 1 involved 11,412 employee hours and the application of 93 tons of salt and gravel per hour throughout an 84-hour ordeal.

“We got literally thousands of calls about icy patches here and there,” then-District Engineer Bayne Smith said at the time.

State Climatologist Bill Murphey said Monday the winter outlook at this point shows a chance for maybe a couple of frigid days similar to the “polar vortex” that struck Georgia and much of the South in early January.

“I think we’re going to see our fair share of cool to cold days, but not necessarily the frequency of real, real cold days,” he said.

As far as precipitation goes, “I think you’re going to see more subtropical moisture ... across South and Central Georgia than in the northern part,” Murphey said.