WEST ORANGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The New Jersey Department of Transportation called for reinforcements Thursday in the aftermath of the second nor’easter to hit the state.
Plow truck drivers from all over mobilized and made their way to the hardest hit areas, which saw a fair share of accidents.
CBS2’s Magdalena Doris took Mobile2 to the Garden State to check out the damage.
As she reported, before the sun rose, the plows were out in force. Flashing lights warned of danger ahead, like the downed tree she saw covering a silver sedan on Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange. Tow truck drivers came to the aide of stranded motorists in the aftermath of Wednesday’s storm walloping northern New Jersey.
Tow tuck driver Robert Coyle told Doris he rescued 20 vehicles on Thursday morning.
As commuters made their way to the highways, they were met by bumper-to-bumper traffic for miles. Desperate drivers were seen pushing their stalled cars through the slushy, icy mess on the road. Tractor-trailers were stuck in high-piled snowbanks, sliding on a layer of packed snow, on Interstate 287.
“The ice and snow was so cold that the plows couldn’t break the grain,” said Ralph Cortese of Bloomingdale. “Normally in a snowstorm like this, it’s clean. It looks like the salt didn’t do what it was supposed to do.”
The question that needed answering was why the entrance ramps to 287 left open by state police and the DOT. As a result, drivers were able to get on the highway, only to be met with a mess.
“If they concentrated with the plows on the ramps it wouldn’t have been a problem. I saw tractor-trailers stuck on the ramps. Once you see tractor-trailer stuck on the ramps, you know it’s a problem,” Cortese said.
By 8 a.m. state police strategically shut down the 287 south entrance ramp at Exit 55 after yet another tractor-trailer accident. That mess forced drivers to avoid the highway all together, Doris reported.
“Going north, it’s pretty bad to all the way to 208,” Haskell’s Dimple Saraiya said. “I need to drop her off at work, but there’s no way that we could, so I’m trying to get from 23 to the parkway.”
CBS2’s Meg Baker asked Gov. Phil Murphy if the ramps should have been closed and plow trucks should have been staged.
“Now it’s quite clear that there are a couple strategic spots in the state, particularly interstates and the hilly parts, where maybe going forward you’d have more strategic assets,” he replied.
The DOT said there were many obstacles that contributed to the problems, including stalled and stranded vehicles that stopped plow operators from doing their job. All of it led to packed ice and snow build-up on the roads. The removal of downed trees and power lines was to continue all day.
“What we would probably stage more are heavy equipment towers,” DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “So you have standard tow trucks, you have tow trucks that are specifically meant to deal with large commercial equipment. And those, while they were out on the road patrolling, we probably staionarily stage them in places where we have higher risk.”
Morris County was one of the hardest hit.
“People came out during part of it in the beginning when it wasn’t doing anything much, and they got caught in it. So we had roadways – Route 10, 287 – that became parking lots. Plows couldn’t’ get around, which prompted a lot of the emergency efforts that had to be taken by the sheriff’s office, parkway police and others,” Morris County Director Office of Emergency Management Director Jeff Paul said.
“Some of these people — there was a 3-year-old child and there were older folks in the vehicle too, so we were concerned about that. But people just got pinned in, and once they got pinned in and plows could get around them, they got plowed in,” Morris County Sheriff Jim Gannon added.
Thursday morning’s commute was also dicey on 280 westbound in Parsippany. The express lanes were blocked by a spin-out.
The night before, Sara Alvarez, of West Orange, was stuck on Route 280 in more than a foot of snow.
“We were trying to stay in tracks of cars that were able to make it no problem, but if one car got stuck and wasn’t going anywhere, we all pretty much got stuck,” she told Baker.
She was finally rescued after more than three hours, then slammed with a $700 tow bill.
“No one came to help, I mean it was just –pretty much the cars were doing whatever they wanted,” she said.
Traffic on I-78 in Union also came to a halt Thursday morning as an 18-wheeler waited for a tow.
In New York, falling ice closed the upper level of the Verrazano Bridge Thursday morning. It reopened a few hours later.
On Wednesday, New Jersey State Police responded to more than 500 crashes and 939 calls for stuck vehicles.
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