Snow storm makes for nasty commutes

Some aldermen call on city to clear snowy side streets
December 17, 2008 5:01:56 PM PST
On Tuesday, Chicagoans faced long commutes on area expressways due to the snow.On Tuesday, Chicagoans faced long commutes on area expressways due to the snow.

Traffic southbound on the Kennedy expressway was moving relatively smoothly on Wednesday afternoon. Cars were traveling at about 25 miles an hour, a lot better than Tuesday night when drivers faced a one to two hour commute. There were three and four hour commutes on the westbound Eisenhower out of town and two and three hour commutes going northbound on the Edens and the 90-94 combination.

But how did that happen when there wasn't a lot of snow?

It was about a lot of bad timing and some bad luck. Any Chicagoan knows winter here can be a beast. But three or more hours to get home on a night when relatively little snow came down? Why so long?

"Four to six inches at rush hour really equals a nightmare. A recipe for a nightmare commute home," said Marisa Kollias, Illinois Dept. of Transportation spokesperson.

Plows couldn't get out ahead of building volume on the expressways and arterial roads. Yet it wasn't like it was a blizzard say a 1967 when 19.8 inches 24 hours. Or 1979 when 29 inches of the white stuff came town - the greatest continuous accumulation since the weather record started.

"This happens a lot of the times. I hear people who are not from here whining this is so cold. This is what we do every season," said one commuter.

In 1990, 9.7 inches of snow snarled traffic and frayed nerves as effectively as a blizzard.

The city had its snow fleet out by 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday but with the bulk of the storm coming during the afternoon rush, the city echoes the state's view that there was little to be done to ease the misery of a long, long ride home.

"We have our eye on a weather system that could be in our area late afternoon or early evening on Thursday," said Matt Smith, Dept. of Streets & Sanitation spokesperson.

The weather is going to get a lot more treacherous and IDOT is preparing for that by pre-salting the roads on Thursday morning. Officials expect to have the roads all salted by 1:00 p.m. But authorities are getting ready for an ice storm.

Commuters should opt to take public transit on Thursday because it is going to be a very nasty day on the roads.

Snow ends, roads still slick on Wednesday

The snow has finished falling, but the mess on the roadways caused numerous accidents.

The calendar may say that it's not yet winter, but it sure looked and felt like it. Tuesday night's snowfall was the heaviest in the city so far this season, forcing residents to allow some extra time Wednesdayday to dig themselves and their vehicles out.

Mary Stack and her husband spent Wednesday morning in her mother's Southwest Side home.

"My mother is away for the winter," Stack said. "She fell one winter and broke some ribs. She said she would never be in Chicago again. The woman next door, she is up in age, too. We try to do a few homes."

Once on the road, it was slow going, even early on. The major roads and expressways were clear but some icy spots forced drivers to hit the breaks. Still, it was nothing compared to Tuesday night's disastrous commute.

"So far so good, a little, tiny bit slow but not bad," said commuter Debbie Petroski. "It's going better this morning. Last night we went to Gurnee Mills. On the way back, we got to Great America. It already took three hours. We got to O'Hare, they said another three hours," said Bob McGee.

With the major streets now in relatively good shape, the Department of Streets and Sanitation has sent its salt trucks and plows to clean up the side streets. Much has been made lately of the city's decision to cut back on salting and side street cleanup as part of an effort to reduce the budget deficit, but a spokesperson for Streets and Sanitation said they are not holding back.

"It just takes time to cover 3,300 miles, but we will get it done today. We're probably going to plow right down the middle and salt," said Matt Smith, Streets and Sanitation.

The city will purchase some 450,000 tons of salt at last year's prices, but even with that advantage, snow cleanup can truly hemorrhage a budget. So far this December, they have already spent $2 million on cleanup, half of which went to snow. It's not even officially winter yet.

"Right now, the majority of our roads are wet with scattered, icy patches," said Cpl. Dwayne Dillahunty, Indiana State Police, early Wednesday morning. "It seems like the portions that are well traveled are where it's wet, but our ramps, which are less traveled, would have more ice on them. So as you said the motorists should be leery there are some icy patches out there. It could be a problem when you get into an area where you have to slow down."

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the inbound Stevenson finally began to clear. As early as 6 a.m., traffic on the Stevenson was already heavy, but nowhere near Tuesday night's mess.

It was a nightmare of a commute Tuesday evening because the snow fell during the evening rush hour. Drivers on their way home crawled to a halt. The travel times on all the area expressways were painfully high as motorists found their trips taking several hours.

One local radio talk show host who was out in the snow said he thinks the city's budget problems may be to blame for why snow removal on the city's streets was slow.

"I think it was part of it. Usually the mayor is pretty good at getting things cleaned up. I think this is the worst response I have seen to a big snow," said Bruce Dumont, broadcaster.

There was no sign of a cutback, though, Wednesday morning. As of 4 a.m., Streets and Sanitation has said they have turned their entire complement of salt trucks and plows to the side streets so they can start working on them.

One Chicago alderman wants more money for snow cleanup in the city.

On Wednesday, 38th Ward Alderman Tom Allen plans to introduce an ordinance calling for the city to divert $1 million each from the leasing of Midway Airport, the Skyway and the city's parking meters. He is demanding $1 million be set aside from each of those three assets for snow cleanup.

Allen announced the ordinance last week after receiving numerous complaints about icy streets.

There are 3,000 miles of side streets in the city of Chicago for the road crews to get to Wednesday morning. That's the distance from Chicago to Scotland.

The snow command center is monitoring all areas of the city to determine where more clearing efforts are needed.


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