'Cartrina'

Even after the snow melts, Atlanta's traffic will be a disaster

Let’s face it: Atlanta traffic is a basket case on a sunny spring day. It’s a ramblin’ wreck nearly every day of the year.

Ask any Augustan who has business in the capital city: You have to build in an hour or so of extra travel time just in case of a traffic jam, and even then you may be late.

It’s little wonder, then, that even a routine snowstorm for the North would bring such a snowplow-poor city on an apparently salt-free diet to its knees.

And while Augusta appears to have gotten by much easier, with mostly a gentle nighttime snowfall Tuesday night, we had much the same forecast as Atlanta. In the face of it, and in an abundance of caution, Richmond County schools folded their tents and took Tuesday completely off; Columbia County schools closed early, far in advance of the storm’s advance. Ditto with other governments and businesses in the Augusta area.

And our traffic is nowhere near the creeping catastrophe that Atlanta’s is.

Why were Gov. Nathan Deal and Mayor Kasim Reed taken so by surprise? Why, with that forecast, was school even in session? Why weren’t “nonessential” government offices closed earlier?

Even in the infamous Katrina hurricane, we’ve always felt that adults need to take more responsibility for themselves – and, indeed, anyone in Atlanta with a smart phone or television could have seen this coming. Still, if their business or government leaders expected them to be there, what could they do?

This was Atlanta’s “Cartrina,” with thousands and thousands of stranded motorists, school kids sleeping in buses and schools, vehicles abandoned on stalled freeways, hungry children in cars and a birth in at least one. Some folks slept in grocery stores, while others took upward of 24 hours to get home.

As in New Orleans, the city’s and state’s leadership has become the focus of national question and scorn.

“This was poor planning on the mayor’s part and the governor’s part, period,” NBC weatherman Al Roker said, noting forecasts that predicted trouble as early as Monday.

Initially, city and state leaders were defensive, claiming the severity of the storm had been unexpected. They had to back off that claim even before some Atlantans got home.

To his credit, Gov. Deal Thursday apologized and promised a top-to-bottom review of what happened.

Good. But it needs to be comprehensive. We would urge the governor, mayor and leaders of all the various government entities in the Atlanta region to come together for a military-style “After-Action Review.” Look honestly at how it could’ve been prevented with planning, coordination and perhaps a bit more supplies and equipment.

That review also ought to take into account the fact that the poor planning goes much deeper than this week’s “snowmageddon.” Atlanta has a serious traffic problem year-round, perhaps the worst in America. It is
exacerbated by the fact that outlying regions never much bought into mass transit, dumping every commuter’s car onto an overburdened road and highway system.

Voters in the region may only have made things worse by rejecting a new transportation sales tax in 2012, called TSPLOST, that would’ve designated billions for infrastructure improvements.

“It’s not an act of nature or God,” Atlanta Magazine Deputy Editor Rebecca Burns wrote on this week’s disaster at
Politico.com. “This fiasco is man-made from start to finish.”

It’s Atlanta’s Cartrina. And lessons need to be learned. Fast.

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