Fort Gordon leaders convened emergency meetings Monday to devise a plan to ease congested traffic at its security gates, which – because of civilian furloughs – lacked the guards needed to handle lines of commuters that stretched more than three miles at times.
At the height of rush hour Monday morning, cars and commercial trucks extended from Gate 1, the primary entrance, past Wrightsboro Road near Interstate 20. The gridlock left some reporting to work two hours late and officials scrambling to create a long-term plan to better serve the estimated 40,000 vehicles the Army post clears each day.
The solution was to redistribute some guards and military policemen to reopen Gate 2 – a commercial entrance that could help control tractor-trailer deliveries – during morning and afternoon commuting hours, spokesman J.C. Mathews said.
“While this change will not significantly increase the inbound capacity of our gates, it will redistribute some of the traffic that converged on Gate 1, Gordon Highway and Jimmie Dyess Parkway Monday morning and possibly eliminate another chokepoint from occurring,” Mathews said.
When news broke in May that the Defense Department planned to furlough civilian employees 11 days to make up $37 billion in cuts from sequestration, Mathews said Fort Gordon began to train military personnel to fill in for the 35 security guards subject to unpaid leave.
However, last week federal officials said it was against department policy to divert military personnel from their normal jobs to fill in for furloughed civilians. Fort Gordon is seeking clarification but has not received any yet, Mathews said.
The post resorted to Plan B: Close all gates except 1 and 5 at the start of furloughs Monday.
Mathews said the furloughs cost the post a security guard one day each week, along with the overtime hours necessary to keep gates open.
“We knew we would have to do some re-evaluation as the process unfolded, but I do not think anyone could have predicted the amount of traffic we had converging on the area today,” he said.
He said the post received no complaint from local authorities Monday about backed-up traffic at the installation.
The good news at Fort Gordon was that supervisors understood arrival times would be unpredictable and no employee was penalized for tardiness.
Col. Robert A. Barker, Fort Gordon’s garrison commander, said the post regrets any inconvenience or disruptions.
“However, while the furlough is in effect, we have no alternative to closing these gates,” he said. “We will return to normal gate operating policies as soon as possible.”