New Jersey’s snow removal budget has been exhausted and officials will be scrambling to find money for the remainder of the winter, Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson testified Monday.
Simpson testified that the agency has spent more than $20 million for snow removal and will have to work with other state officials to find whatever money will be needed for further snow storms.
Simpson’s testimony came during an assembly transportation hearing called to discuss snow removal in the wake of a storm three days after Christmas that dumped nearly three feet of snow on some portions of the state.
The storm caused two weeks of headaches for Gov. Chris Christie, who was on vacation with his family in Disney World when it hit. The governor’s decision to allow Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno to take vacation during the same week drew fire from Democrats who sought to paint Christie and his administration as missing in action during one of the worst storms in recent memory.
”There were things that transpired that were not satisfactory,’’ committee Chairman John Wisniewski said in opening the hearing. He said the purpose of the hearing was to learn whether changes needed to be made to departmental procedures to prevent such problems in the future.
Simpson, after thanking the numerous agencies that helped clear roads after the snowfall that lasted from Dec. 26-28, told the committee that there have been 19 winter storms in the last 12 months but that this blizzard was the worst.
He said that despite the magnitude of the blizzard, with approximately 3 inches of snow falling per hour, agencies kept 95 percent of New Jersey’s state highway system open.
Giving a glimpse of the severity of the problems, Simpson said that on I-280 in the Oranges, more than 100 vehicles were towed, 100 people were moved to a shelter after 100 vehicles were towed off the Garden State Parkway, there was another major tie-up at I-195 and Route 138, and they had to redeploy equipment and personnel rapidly throughout the blizzard.
The rate of snowfall coupled with the fact that the roads were already full of a great deal of post-holiday traffic complicated emergency services, he testified. He said the experts say that snow removal trucks can handle a snowfall rate of about 1.5 inches per hour.
“Tow trucks had to tow other tow trucks,’’ he said, adding the roads were snow-covered almost immediately after a truck had plowed them. “It was not a matter of not having enough equipment, but snow fell so quickly and there already were so many people on the roads,’’ he testified.
As a result, he said the DOT has already started to implement changes to better coordinate redeployment of equipment through use of computer tracking and more communications updates. He said they have talked about centralizing management in one location at Woodbridge, with Wisniewski suggesting that such coordination include municipal and county officials as well as state and federal agencies.
Simpson maintained that crews performed well even though, as Wisniewski pointed out, there still were ramps closed in the days after the snow.