NJ DOT Commissioner Apologizes, Says 'We Got Behind The Storm'

AT-A-GLANCE

FORDS, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and state officials spoke out Friday about the state’s response to yesterday’s snowstorm that left commuters and students stranded.

In a news conference, the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation apologized.

“So first, I offer our apologies to all of our New Jerseyans who last night experienced a really rough commute home,” said Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti. “It’s never the DoT’s intention to impact our commuters, our residents in that way. And clearly I’m accountable for our performance.”

“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 anyone or any organization had forecasted, and that is a fact,” Murphy said.

“I understand and appreciate entirely and completely the frustration that I am hearing and our team is hearing from commuters,” Murphy said.

Murphy said that a storm response review process has already begun, and he will be asking the Port Authority for answers.

“I’ve asked for an explanation as to why the bus terminal access was restricted as it was, which only made things worse last night. This is a serious issue that I and our team have addressed to its leadership. It’s unacceptable,” Murphy said.

Ahead of the storm, the state pretreated roads and wound up deploying more than 1,800 pieces of equipment.

“Unfortunately, the worst of the storm coincided with the early dismissals from schools and workplaces. Meaning that just when we needed our road crews and all that equipment out there the most, they were competing with folks, understandably by the way, trying to get back home as well,” Murphy said.

Murphy said there were just under 1,000 accidents and 1,900 motorist aid requests. One person was killed in a train accident in New Providence, Murphy said. In that incident, a train struck a car that was stuck on the tracks at a crossing. The gates came down on Susan Brown’s car, NJ TRANSIT said. Brown, 61, was killed.

“I know it was a trying time and it was a trying commute, especially for those who weren’t able to make it home,” Murphy said.

There were some 11,000 people without power after the storm, Murphy said, adding the number was thankfully lower than it could have been. For some, power had already been restored.

“We will be ready as best we can for whatever winter has in store,” Murphy said.

He urged New Jersey residents to learn more about storm preparedness and make their own storm plans by clicking here.

Gutierrez-Scaccetti said the forecast “up until midday yesterday” called for no more than four inches of snow, and they were salting the roads ahead of the storm. Once the snowfall started to accelerate, the DoT had to transition to plowing, but that was hampered by the amount of vehicles on the road with early dismissals and people going home.

“A plowing operation takes several trucks and several lanes and they were not able to get through the congested areas,” she said.

“We understand the frustration. We are not happy with it. I listen to lots of the news so I understand. We don’t preposition trucks to salt… we preposition trucks to plow. So that’s why people did not see trucks prepositioned yesterday before the storm. Again, we got behind the storm. We realize that, and as the governor said, we will do a post-mortem and we will improve our operations so by the time the next storm is here we will be making different decisions and hopefully delivering the service that everyone expects of us.”

“Not much snow, but still it was bad,” Eva Viakakis told CBS2’s Dave Carlin. Viakakis has helped run the Bendix Diner for 37 years. She once again saw it become a refuge when traffic on major New Jersey roads turned into a parking lot.

“Everyone comes here, especially when it snows,” said Renee Civin of Little Ferry.

When Viakakis’ shift was over, she got stuck in the traffic.

“So I leave early, and it was worse,” she told Carlin. “To get home from here, four and a half hours.”

Bob Koerner said it took him three hours to get from Elmwood Park to Secaucus. It normally takes 45 minutes.

Traffic crawled across the Garden State on Thursday night as cars got stuck in the slush. Roads looked more like parking lots.

“Roads are terrible, backed up two miles going the other way. I turned around three times,” one driver told CBS2. “Bad day, stay off the roads.”

Conditions weren’t much different for New Jersey TRANSIT riders. Platforms were packed as commuters made a mad-dash to the trains at Penn Station.

“A mess, a mess,” one man said.

One commuter at the Port Authority Bus Terminal said she been standing in line for four and half hours.

“They had the first, second and third floors closed until 8 p.m. Once we got to the gate, the line was 500-deep,” a man added.

With so many buses delayed or canceled, officials had to shut the doors to the terminals due to overcrowding.

“This has been the worst I’ve seen it,” said one woman.

Port Authority tried to urge riders to take a train or ferry home instead, but even the ferry lines were unusually long. The agency also tweeted that PATH service from 33rd Street would be free through midnight.

“I’m shocked a transit system could be shut down for not even an inch of snow and rain,” a man said.

NJ TRANSIT says Gladstone service is suspended Friday and buses are running with delays because of a lack of available drivers. Many operators worked past their normal end times on Thursday night, and federal law requires they rest for a certain amount of time.