Karl Douglass: Deja vu: Winter storm of 2011

February 1, 2014 

Has anybody talked to Vance Smith? I figured some intrepid reporter would have interviewed him about Atlanta's weather-related transportation problems last week.

You remember Vance. He was head of the Georgia Department of Transportation on Sunday, January 10, 2011 -- the day that an epic snow storm hit Atlanta and created massive transportation problems.

Two days after the storm, when many roads were still impassible, Vance came under a lot of criticism. In an interview with WXIA-TV, he took responsibility for the DOT's perceived failings in the situation and said, "It's a great, concerted effort, and we're human beings. We're just tackling it as hard as we can."

Later that same year, Vance resigned as head of DOT. There were many reasons cited for his resignation, but many people believe the major seeds of discontent with the then newly elected Governor Nathan Deal and the DOT board were planted during that January snow storm in 2011.

Atlanta was shut down by a snow storm again last week. Criticism of how the city of Atlanta and state of Georgia handled the crisis has come from every side. As Vance did in 2011, two days after the storm, Governor Deal took responsibility for the breakdown and apologized to the citizens.

"I am the governor. The buck stops with me. We didn't respond fast enough … Our preparation was not adequate," he said in a news conference on Thursday.

Only time will tell whether last week's storm will shorten Governor Deal's tenure the way the 2011 storm is believed to have shortened Vance's. The fact is, however, that in both cases the business and political engine of the state was shut down not so much by the weather, but rather by the fact that the transportation infrastructure could not accommodate the massive strain under which it was placed.

It will continue to be hotly debated whether elected officials received sufficient weather information in adequate time to make sound decisions about when to shut down the cities, schools and businesses of the Atlanta region last week. What cannot be debated is the fact that once the decision was made, transportation throughout the Atlanta region was brought to a standstill by a lack of sufficient infrastructure.

Vance was never really given a chance to make that point to the public after the snowstorm in 2011. Perhaps if he had had that opportunity back then, we would not be hearing the scores of snowstorm horror stories that we are hearing right now.

Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.

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