Too much of a bad thing
Northerners who take winter driving in stride might have enjoyed some guilty pleasure last week when two inches of snow paralyzed Atlanta.
But the situation was no joke. More than 1 million vehicles hit the road around the same time as schools and businesses closed. At least one baby was born in a car stranded for the night, with thousands of others, on Interstate 85. Thousands of schoolchildren spent the night in schools and school buses. Several Home Depot stores along highways became impromptu overnight shelters for thousands of stranded motorists. Roads impassable to regular motorists also were impassable to ambulances, police cars and fire trucks.
The chaos was not attributable to inept drivers, but at least partially to inept governance rooted in a local government structure that is not unlike that in Pennsylvania.
As noted by Atlanta writer Rebecca Burns in Politico, Atlanta's population is only about 435,000. But it is the economic center of a sprawling region of 6 million people with hundreds of units of local government.
Pennsylvania, with about 13.1 million residents and covering 46,056 square miles, infamously has more units of local government than any other state - about 2,500 municipal governments, 500 school districts and 67 counties, plus thousands of authorities, boards and commissions.
Georgia, with 9.7 million residents and 57,425 square miles, has 159 counties - second only to Texas' 254 across 268,596 square miles - more than 15 of which are in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Far-flung infrastructure, under the control of scores of different governments, played a substantial role in the Atlanta area's nightmare. There is scant mass transit among so many jurisdictions with competing priorities.
The Atlanta paralysis is a cautionary tale about the perils of fragmented government, as much as about the perils of icy roads.