First Snowfall Of 2018 Winter Season

Frank Ciuffetelli

The Blame Game Continues After Snow Cripples Region, Causes Nightmare Commute

November 16, 2018 - 5:39 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) The Tri-State area was pummeled by an unexpectedly severe snowstorm Thursday, and it seems like no one is willing to take the fall for treacherous conditions during the evening commute.

"Clearly we could have done better,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who offered no apology after motorists, commuters and school children were stuck for hours after the roads became paralyzed by the winter weather.

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Instead, both Murphy and New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio blamed the gridlock on timing.

“Yesterday, New Jersey and the region got an early taste of winter with our first storm, and it came much stronger and hit us harder than any one, or any organization had forecasted,” said Murphy.

In an afternoon press conference de Blasio claimed he was "frustrated as a New Yorker, who was stuck in traffic like so many other people were" and also "frustrated as mayor of this city." 

He said the storm came at "exactly the wrong time" and claimed there was nothing more the city could have done.

"In truth this was a kind of perfect storm, it emerged bigger and later than anyone expected," the mayor said. "There are a lot of reasons why things ended up the way they did...we are trying to learn some lessons."

The mayor claimed nobody would have believed them if they had come out with dire warnings about a storm that, at the time, wasn’t supposed to amount to much more than a dusting.

“I think we're going to find that a lot of this was exceptional and unusual and some of it beyond our control. But, we're also going to find areas where we can do better,” de Blasio said.

The mayor said there will be a full audit review of what happened.

In an interview with NY1 Friday morning, de Blasio explained that a late change in the forecast and a multi-vehicle crash on the upper level of the George Washington Bridge were the ingredients that fueled a so-called "perfect storm."

"When it finally became clear we were going to get very fast, intense heavy wet snow, rush hour was already beginning and all of the pieces were starting to sort of bang into each other. Everything was starting to have a multiplier effect in a bad way," de Blasio said.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Friday responded to the mayor’s vow to do a full operational review, saying the council will do its best to ensure full transparency.

“The city council will exercise our oversight authority and ensure this operational review is transparent and all-encompassing so New Yorkers understand what exactly happened here,”

The council speaker offered an apology to New Yorkers and sympathized with their frustrations. He noted that it's the beginning of the storm season and that he wants to make sure the city is better prepared.

“The bottom line is that what happened last night is unacceptable,” Johnson said, who added that he has not lost confidence in Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia.

New Jersey commuters also were offered some apologies from DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.

“I offer our apologies to all our New Jerseyans who last night experienced a really rough commute home, and clearly I'm accountable for our performance,” the commissioner said during a press conference.

Though, neither Murphy or the DOT could explain how the conditions declined so rapidly.

“Unfortunately, the worse of the storm coincided with the early dismissals from school and workplaces meaning that just when we needed our road crews and the equipment out there the most, they were completing with folks, understandably, trying to get back home,” Murphy said of the late response.

Both the governor and the mayor said the lesson has been learned and they hope to better prepare the Tri-State area for the next storm.

"Every storm gives us a test. This is not the first, by a mile, but it gives us the chance to review responses and make adjustments for the next one," Murphy explained. “We will be ready as best we can for whatever winter has in store.”

In New Jersey, Gov. Murphy said there was over 1,000 accidents and just under 1,900 motorists aide requests. There was also one fatality on a train car in New Providence.

On the George Washington Bridge, a 25-vehicle pileup brought traffic to a standstill and prevented sanitation trucks from getting out to critical areas.

"I think that we absolutely were prepared. Obviously this was a storm that was significantly heavier than forecast one inch versus six or seven inches that came at exactly the wrong time," Sanitation Commissioner Garcia told WCBS 880. "But really what hampered us the most were the issues at the George Washington Bridge which really shows how critical that piece of infrastructure is because we were trapped in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx for hours without being able to get any sort of salt down on those streets which had cascading effects."

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer is not happy with the city's response to the storm. He called it a mess and said his office will be following up with the Department of Sanitation to demand answers.

Although conditions had improved by Friday morning, commuters were still met with some challenges.

Some drivers were stuck on the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx over night and woke up in their cars Friday morning.

NJ Transit is telling bus customers to expect delays and cancellations again Friday morning because a lot of bus drivers worked past their normal end times Thursday, and federal law requires a mandated rest period.

That means there are fewer bus drivers available Friday morning.

Commuters are noticing, like WCBS 880 News Director Tim Scheld.

This after the Port Authority Bus Terminal closed two floors, causing chaos during the Thursday evening rush.

“It's been a hectic night, traveling from work and now stuck here wanting to go home,” said one commuter during the shutdown. She told WCBS 880's Steve Burns that she wanted to set up camp in a corner of the Port Authority ahead of an early morning shift at work and complained about the lack of updates given to commuters.

During the evening commute, the Port Authority's Steve Coleman told WCBS 880 that there were about 600 people waiting for buses at the terminal.

Bus riders in the city have been wondering why the MTA did not use tire chains to help buses get around Thursday. The MTA says it didn't feel the forecast warranted the use of tire chains and that all their buses are equipped with all-weather tires. 

The agency says there were 5,000 buses on the streets yesterday and only a small number of them experienced any issues.

MTA Bus Crash
Anthony Behar/Sipa USA

But two MTA buses crashed at Central Park West and 81st Street, blocking traffic for over an hour, and 79th Street was closed with at least five buses getting struck trying to get up a hill.

A winter weather advisory is in effect until 10 a.m. and a wind advisory is in effect until noon.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The day started off fairly dry and cold, but that didn't last long as the sloppy storm moved in and dumped as much as 6 inches of snow across parts of the area before the system moves out. 

Initially, forecasts projected snow totals of 1 to 3 inches.

“This is a storm that gives forecasting a bad name, nobody got this one right," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy told WCBS 880.

Murphy commented on the situation late Thursday and recommended those left stranded in Port Authority "keep the faith and have patience" as they waited for service to improve.

Former NJ Gov. Chris Christie was stuck in traffic for hours and called a NJ radio station to vent, saying he had been in his car for 4 hours and 15 minutes.

Additionally, New Jersey Transit was plagued with service disruptions throughout the day.

NY Waterway then began accepting NJ Transit rail ticket and passes along with PATH, which was cross-honoring passes at Newark Penn Station, Hoboken, World Trade Center and 33rd Street.

Signal problems briefly suspended westbound service between Jamaica and Penn Station on the Long Island Rail Road. Almost immediately after the issue was resolved, switch troubles then suspended service between Atlantic Terminal and Jamaica, as well as between Woodside and Penn Station on the Port Washington branch.

As the snow began to fall earlier in the day, there were multiple delays reported at area airports, including John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty, where more than 400 flights were cancelled and 300 others were delayed.

Arriving flights also had issues. A plane that landed from Lisbon was stuck on the tarmac for more than seven hours.

Some passengers had trouble even getting to Newark Airport because Routes 280, 78, 21 and 22 were cl;osed much of the afternoon and evening, leaving people stranded in vehicles unable to go anywhere. A woman from Ringwood told NJ Advance Media she was driving to the airport to pick up her boyfriend at 3 p.m. but was still stuck in traffic six hours later.

The storm left a slushy mess on major roadways, causing major backups and traffic slowdowns. WCBS 880's traffic reporter Tom Kaminski said no matter where you were headed, your commute would be two to three times longer than normal. 

“The plows are getting there, but this thing snuck up, unfortunately, on everybody. But they’re getting there. We have over 980 out there right now," Murphy said in response to the traffic conditions.

The snowstorm crippled also roads in New Jersey, stranding kids at school, forcing them to spend the night there.

Students in New York City were also stranded on school buses. City school transportation officials say there were still children on buses that hadn’t made it home at around midnight.

NYC schools are open Friday morning but schools chancellor Richard Carranza told parents to expect delays on bus routes and that lateness would be excused.

Parents with concerns or questions are urged to call 718-392-8855.