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Last year's 'snowmageddon' pushed improvements
Department of Transportation stockpiles salt, gravel, brine
The Georgia Department of Transportation’s Gainesville-based District 1 office has a new plow in its arsenal that can work two lanes at a time.

North Georgia may have dodged the snow-and-ice bullet so far this year, but officials say they’re in better shape in case the region is blasted by a storm like the “snowmageddon” that struck on this day last year.

And communication is the key, Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said Tuesday.

“We have a strong team and a strong way of communicating with each other, and that just positions us better initially,” he said.

And that helps with response, especially before the storm, said McMurry, who was named to the post last week, succeeding the retiring Keith Golden.

McMurry referred to Gov. Nathan Deal’s move to create a winter weather task force after last year’s storm, which especially caught Atlanta off guard, stranding thousands of motorists on major interstates.

The state caught the glare of national media attention, criticized for its lack of response and preparation.

The storm struck the Hall County area as well, but not as hard. Still, at one point, the DOT had 250 people working for 48 straight hours in Gainesville-based District 1, which covers Northeast Georgia.

To shore up response in case of heavy snows, the DOT has put up a new “salt barn,” a structure where snow-melting materials are kept, on Ga. 53 in Braselton.

“It is open and stocked, ready for use when needed,” district spokeswoman Teri Pope said.

Also, District 1 has two new “tow plows,” which are able to clear two lanes at a time. The $280,000 plows arrived Thursday.

The DOT also more than doubled its stockpile of materials in District 1. Before the storm that hit the North Georgia mountains this week, the district had 12,000 tons of salt, 12,000 tons of gravel and 15,000 gallons of brine in storage tanks at three different locations across the district, Pope said.

Ken Rearden, Hall County’s public works and utilities director, said last year’s storm didn’t necessarily prompt any upgrades to equipment or procedures.

“We are always tweaking our snow plans,” he said.

The county has bought several small spreaders to fit on backs of pickups to spread salt and calcium at such public places as compactor sites, parks and fire stations.

Rearden said he believes the county’s plans “are pretty sound.”

Officials strive to “get ahead of the event and stay on (duty) for 24 hours a day until the roads (and other public areas) are clear,” he said.

David Kimbrell, Hall’s Emergency Management Agency director, said even though last year’s storm could have been worse for the Hall area, officials need to be prepared.

And he said he believes that’s the case, “but Mother Nature is stronger than we are,” Kimbrell said. “There are times when the snow could overpower (our) efforts.”

Road crews have done a good job in the past, and “we have a plan on priority roads and (which ones) to scrape accordingly to move traffic,” Kimbrell said.

Hall County has been spared so far this winter, with only a few days beset by harsh temperatures. The National Weather Service’s immediate forecast calls for mild temperatures and rain Sunday.

The DOT did respond to snowfall Tuesday morning in parts of Lumpkin, Towns, Union and White counties. By noon, however, the sun was shining and temperatures were rising.