Waiting for GDOT: New Highway Safety Program in NW Georgia. Except Here.

On Monday, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is launching a broad new maintenance/incident management initiative to make northwest Georgia's highways safer.

Except Dade's.

"The Coordinated Highway and Maintenance Program (CHAMP) will launch next week in the 17 counties of Georgia DOT’s District Six in northwest Georgia," reads an April 27 GDOT press release, in part. "This operation is the nation's first statewide freeway patrol service."

The press release goes on to explain that CHAMP involves patrol teams that provide motorists interstate highway assistance in the style of an older metro-Atlanta program, Highway Emergency Response Operators (HERO), but that also look specifically for maintenance issues. State Traffic Engineer Andrew Heath is quoted as follows: "CHAMP operators are Georgia DOT's eyes on the road. By proactively responding to maintenance issues, as well as addressing incident clearance and motorist assistance, they will make Georgia highways safer."

Except Dade County's.

The press release elaborates: "CHAMPs in northwest Georgia will report or resolve roadway maintenance issues and assist law enforcement with traffic incidents to ensure safe, quick clearance and efficient traffic flow. They will provide immediate notification about bridge or roadway damage, downed signs, missing markings, signal malfunctions, and commercial vehicle crashes and spills. They will clear clogged drains, clean up minor non-hazardous spills, and remove debris, vegetative growth and abandoned vehicles. CHAMPs will also aid motorists who need it."

Except in Dade.

"When fully operational," the release goes on, "CHAMP will be staffed by 48 full-time operators and 18 full-time dispatchers. A total of 51 branded, custom-fitted CHAMP trucks will patrol 16 different routes on interstates (except short stretches of I-24 and I-59) seven days a week, 16 hours a day, and will be on call the other eight hours."

Note the parenthetical phrase. The Dade Planet contacted GDOT's Mohamed Arafa to ascertain that "short stretches of I-24 and I-59" referred to the sections of the nation's interstate system that pass through a certain county at the extreme northwest corner of Georgia--one that is so consistently left out it's not even on the state quarter.

The answer was: pretty much.

"You have to have a long stretch because these are people going to patrol the interstate," said Arafa. "The portion of 24 that is in Georgia is very, very short."

Anyway, said Arafa, this is a brand-new program that is only kicking off on Monday. "When you start, you start with a major arterial like I-75, which we have at least 55 miles of service on it," said Arafa. "When we service the other portions, 75 and 20, we will definitely think about extending the service."

Dade officials complain consistently that GDOT treats the county like a redheaded stepchild, particularly in ice/snow incidents when, they complain, Dade roads are neglected in favor of concentrating resources and manpower on the Atlanta area. Will this new incidence of Dade's "exceptionalism" lead to further plaints of "We're not paranoid, we're being persecuted?"

Time will tell. Until then, as Dade County is (with apologies to Samuel Beckett) "Waiting for GDOT," it remains, as ever, on its own--or, to put it another way, The Independent State of Dade.

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