Early snowstorm caused major highway headaches — ‘I was in park, in one spot, for almost three hours’

Early snowstorm caused major highway headaches — ‘I was in park, in one spot, for almost three hours’

For Meriden resident Melissa Zoni, a typical evening commute from her Naugatuck workplace to her Chamberlain Avenue home takes about 20 minutes.

But on Thursday night, she and thousands of other drivers across the state experienced lengthy delays as several inches of snow rapidly fell on major highways.

Throughout the storm, state police responded to more 1,300 calls for service and 200 accidents, and by Friday morning, about 8 inches of snow had accumulated in area towns.

Zoni’s trip began at her usual time of 7:30 p.m. She did not arrive home until about midnight, after enduring hours of traffic delays on Interstate 691 east.

“In my head I wanted to believe it wouldn't be long before we started moving again,” Zoni said after seeing brake lights on I-691. “I was so wrong. I was in park, in one spot, for almost three hours.”

In some parts of the state, snow accumulated at rates of almost 3 inches per hour, which exceeded initial expectations, according to Gary Lessor, meteorologist with the Weather Center at Western Connecticut State University. Snow began sticking to roads almost immediately after precipitation began, complicating matters with rush-hour traffic.

For many drivers like Zoni, their experience was a frustrating one.

“Cars and trucks started driving through the median to get to the other side of 691,” Zoni said. “There were trucks and cars stuck because we were in one spot for so long and the snow kept building up around them.”

Kevin Nursick, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, acknowledged the public’s frustration, but said the department took every precaution available ahead of Thursday’s storm.

“We were all well aware that a winter event was rolling in,” Nursick said Friday. “We did a statewide pre-treatment protocol on the roads...we had over 700 trucks on the roads last night, the same amount that would be used for a blizzard.”

Nursick believes the severity of the delays throughout the state were due to the timing of the storm, mixed with a lack of winter preparation by some drivers for the first storm of the season, which provided “a recipe for disaster.”

“Every year, we see a high volume of crashes for the first two or three snow events,” Nursick explained. “Motorists don’t get into winter-weather driving mindsets, and it leads to crashes on the roadways.”

State police also said they were prepared for the storm.

“Our coverage was as adequate as it could be,” Trooper Tanya Compagnone said.

AAA said continuously building traffic made plowing a major issue.

“It was a very busy night for us,” AAA spokeswoman Fran Mayko said. “But we always anticipate the worst possible scenario.”

According to Nursick and Mayko, the already crowded roadways during rush hour gave very little room for error for drivers navigating through low-visibility conditions, and just a few mistakes by a handful of drivers had a devastating domino effect.

“In most cases, it’s because a few were driving irresponsibly,” Nursick said. “And they impacted the commutes of hundreds of thousands of people across Connecticut.”

Mayko also thought more preparedness by motorists would have helped the situation.

“The middle of a snowstorm isn’t the time to get batteries checked,” Mayko said. “That should be done back in October. There were a lot of accidents last night, and a lot of it was human error.”

“People are not preparing for snow like they used to,” Nursick said. “If behavior doesn’t change, this will continue.”

Twitter: @ryanchichester1


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