Rant: Buying Snow and Ice in Atlanta

Or specifically, buying the absence of the cold slippery stuff. What is the ROI? This is a question the Georgia Department of Transportation – particularly concerning the greater Atlanta area – should be asking itself.

I narrowly escaped getting stuck at the Atlanta airport, when I managed to get on a noon flight to Chicago via Detroit on Tuesday. My wife on the other hand kept working at her office along the northern perimeter in Atlanta, and when she finally decided to head home in the afternoon, she was caught in the snow along with tens (hundreds?) of thousands of other commuters. What normally is a 40-60 minute commute turned into an 8 or 9 hour crawl covering a mere 20 miles. Around 1 am she pulled over at a nearby hotel and spent the night in the lobby, which was filled with fellow stranded commuters.

Which picture below is from the TV series “The Walking Dead,” and which depicts Atlanta traffic? Hard to tell, right? Hint, the former is the one without the snow.

walking dead and atlanta

Sadly, at least a dozen people died during this snowstorm, which isn’t as rare of an occurrence as people might think. During my 10 years in Atlanta I’ve experience the 2005 ice storm and a major snowstorm in 2009. And now there’s this one (that I personally avoided), which dealt another crippling blow to businesses, schools, and many activities in the area. Something needs to be done to minimize the effect the next time this happens.

OK, snowplows might not appear in Atlanta any time soon – but perhaps even that level of investment is justifiable considering the enormous loss of productivity, not mention loss of life and limb from the accidents associated with snow and black ice.

Also, the thought that you either need to go all in and buy mega machinery or do nothing is a straw man argument. You don’t have to get dedicated specialized equipment that sits idle for three years between each time it’s used. Garbage trucks are used to clear snow in other cities, and fire department vehicles can easily be used as well.

The costs associated with this paralysis is staggering. Let’s estimate the “value” lost at a mere $10 per hour. Multiply this with 10 hours per day, times the four days the area stood still, times 1 million people, and you get close to half a billion dollars in lost productivity. Regarding hard numbers – for the politicians to spend – considering the tax base, there must have been a sizeable loss of sales, business, and income taxes.

Judging by online ads for heavy vehicles’ snowplow attachments, equipping existing vehicles with temporary snowplows appears to cost no more than a few thousand dollars per vehicle – bulk purchases undoubtedly driving down the acquisition costs. So for a few million you’ll be able to equip up to a thousand vehicles!

Adding the capacity to spread sand or salt can’t be that pricey either – perhaps through some partnership with local construction companies, waste management firms, fire departments, municipal road maintenance organizations, etc. Time to get creative, bring resources together, and be better prepared for next time.

With a bit of American ingenuity and adoption of inexpensive yet functional approaches from colder parts of the country, a little bit of an investment would go a long way.

The cost of doing nothing is preposterously high – a city of six million paralyzed for several days because of ice and snow? Schools (and many businesses) closed for the better part of an entire week? This is not acceptable.

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Voices (3)

  1. Leonidas:

    The Atlanta event had little or nothing to do with snow accumulation. Temperature fluctuations resulted in melting and refreezing of the moderate amount of snow. The resulting icy roadways were a disaster. The situation was widely predicted in the mass media but ignored by the “authorities” and ill prepared commuters relying on “government” to address the problem.

  2. anonymous:

    No doubt. Those tactics are all used in the north but a major difference thats gone undiscussed is that a lot of the work is subcontracted to local people/companies that shift their work during the winter months – landscapers, pavers & the like that basically cease operations in the winter and shift to spreading and snow removal in the winter. The year round economy for this work down south is probably a disinsentive for contractors (they’d rather stay working in their sweet spot).

  3. Barbara Ardell:


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