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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Don’t repeat Atlanta’s mistake; be prepared

Published:   |   Updated: February 2, 2014 at 12:38 PM

We make the trip up I-75 half a dozen times a year on the way to North Carolina.

Usually about the time we approach Macon, I start making a pitch to take the “shortcut” on back roads through Athens that cuts about 50 miles off the trip.

The Frau objects, claiming it’s faster to go through Atlanta and pick up I-85 out of town. Her real reasoning goes back to the time we broke down outside of Athens and spent that night at the Bulldog Inn, but that’s another story.

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It seems like every time we go through Atlanta there is another perimeter interstate and another six lanes of traffic to navigate. There is also some strange almost alien layer of gas over the area that causes drivers to go nuts on the road, changing lanes at 80 mph as they plunge into the city or pretend they are in bumper cars at the fair.

What’s disturbing is you don’t have to squint to see what Tampa might be like a decade down the road. It doesn’t take much imagination to see it.

I think about it every time I see that extension from I-4 to the crosstown with its massive looping curves on top of each other.

In recent years, it hasn’t taken much to turn every road inside and outside of Atlanta into a parking lot. Usually it’s just a ballgame downtown or a traffic pileup that quickly spreads the traffic jams for miles. Sometimes it’s no more than the five o’clock rush that begins around three in the afternoon.

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Last week’s nightmare was a couple of inches of snow that caused utter chaos not only on the roads but through the city and surrounding bedroom communities.

In the aftermath the finger pointing was everywhere, from the governor to the mayor to the weathermen and even the citizens who went to work when they should have stayed home.

I blame the whole lot. In all of this, I haven’t seen a lot of people taking personal responsibility.

What’s even more ominous is that it doesn’t take much imagination to see the same thing happening here. In fact, to a lesser degree, I have seen it happen here.

It’s pretty unlikely we’re going to be seeing 2 inches of snow anytime soon, although I remember the chaos that January morning in 1977 when we got a dusting of snow and traffic was snarled everywhere.

But the more serious issue later this year will be when the potential hurricanes and tropical storms begin rolling across the Atlantic or forming in the Caribbean.

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You don’t want to be trapped in a traffic jam on I-4 or I-75 trying to get out of town when that hurricane with its 120 mph winds comes howling up Tampa Bay.

Were you around in 1985 when Hurricane Elena came our way? That one was completely erratic and the weather people never had a handle on what it was going to do. Around Labor Day it settled in not too many miles offshore and just sat there.

At one point, there was a decision to evacuate Pinellas County, and more than 300,000 people did exactly that. Unfortunately ,thousands of them crossed the Gandy Bridge at night and came to a dead end in Tampa, where Gandy runs into Bayshore Boulevard, where the water from Hillsborough Bay was rolling over the seawall.

Mercifully, Elena moved on, or it could have been a frightening tragedy.

When these things happen, you should listen to the politicians and officials, but it is more important to take personal responsibility for yourself and your family and get out well in advance to a shelter you have planned to use. Atlanta was not ready. There is no reason we shouldn’t be.

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