Portland-area transportation businesses unprepared for historic snowstorm

Portland-area transportation businesses unprepared for historic snowstorm

The Portland Bureau of Transportation and the Oregon Division of Transportation had each been getting ready for a winter storm since early this week when forecasters predicted a lightweight dusting of snow on Wednesday. However neither division was prepared for the historic snowfall that floor Portland-area visitors to a halt Wednesday night.

Portland-area transportation businesses unprepared for historic snowstorm

Drivers creep alongside NW Naito Parkway close to Burnside Bridge in Portland, Feb. 22, 2023. Commutes all through the Portland space have been hampered by heavy snowfall, Feb. 22, 2023.

Prakruti Bhatt / OPB

“Every part about this — the timing, the magnitude, the path — all of it, the forecasters acquired improper,” Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesperson Dylan Rivera mentioned Thursday morning. “Even when we had a warning, this may have been an epic occasion. And now, an epic occasion with no warning? That’s a double whammy.”

Oregon Division of Transportation spokesperson Don Hamilton mentioned plows have been able to go, together with automobiles to unfold salt and de-icer.

“After which we acquired hit, we acquired hit arduous by this storm,” he mentioned. “We acquired hit with ice, slush on the highway. That turned to ice with virtually 11 inches of snow on high of that. So this was an enormous storm.”

On Wednesday morning, climate forecasters have been nonetheless predicting no various inches of snow at excessive altitudes within the metropolis. That took a flip within the afternoon when snow started sticking in downtown Portland.

“We stopped getting forecasts, and began getting play-by-plays,” Rivera mentioned. “We have been informed within the second that two inches had collected throughout the town, and it was solely anticipated to proceed.”

PBOT instantly requested staff to increase their day shifts from 3 p.m. to six p.m. and prepped a second shift of employees to start out at 11 p.m. Snowplows, de-icing automobiles, and different emergency crews started spreading throughout the town.

However the response got here too late.

By rush hour, Portland’s primary roads have been clogged with unprepared commuters. Automobiles unable to maneuver the snowy streets blocked some lanes of visitors and TriMet started canceling routes on account of caught buses. Many drivers opted to desert their automobiles and stroll house within the quickly-accumulating snow.

PBOT was tasked with eradicating these deserted automobiles Thursday morning. Rivera mentioned it’s metropolis coverage to make sure that a minimum of one lane of visitors alongside vital emergency routes stays open, to permit for police, fireplace, and different emergency automobiles to cross by means of. Automobiles left in downtown Portland and alongside routes to Oregon Well being & Science College that have been actively blocking roadways needed to be towed Wednesday.

Whereas Rivera expressed sympathy for drivers who felt like that they had no different selection however to desert their automobiles Wednesday, he mentioned they’ll nonetheless be liable for the price to tow these automobiles — estimated at round $128. Rivera initially mentioned drivers would even be cited, a $270 ticket. Later Thursday afternoon, he introduced that PBOT would not be ticketing individuals who deserted their automobiles Wednesday.

“To be truthful, the general public didn’t have any warning about this that will have allowed them to be ready,” mentioned Rivera. “However neither did the town.”

In the Sylvan Hills area of Southwest Portland, a driver receives some help getting up Barnes Road. Feb. 22, 2023.

Within the Sylvan Hills space of Southwest Portland, a driver receives some assist getting up Barnes Highway. Feb. 22, 2023.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

If PBOT had been given greater than an hour’s warning {that a} heavy snowstorm was coming by means of Portland, Rivera mentioned, the town’s response would have regarded way more proactive.

“We might have gladly put 55 snow plows on the road by midday Wednesday if we knew greater than two inches of snow have been coming Wednesday,” he mentioned. “But when we did that with only a dusting of snow on the forecast, that will appear like a waste of taxpayer {dollars}.”

Shifting ahead, Hamilton mentioned the first objective for state transportation crews is to ensure the primary highways within the metro space and alongside the coast are cleared, together with Interstate 5, Interstate 205, Interstate 84 and U.S. 101.

“These roads have had numerous issues,” he mentioned. “We’ve had bushes down. We’ve acquired clearly snow and numerous ice. Our priorities are going to be for emergency service automobiles for commuters, and positively for freight and enterprise.”

With temperatures anticipated to stay under freezing Thursday, Rivera mentioned PBOT is concentrated on plowing and de-icing primary roads. PBOT received’t be clearing residential streets.

Metropolis Commissioner Mingus Mapps, who oversees the transportation company, mentioned he’s “very blissful” with PBOT’s response to the storm.

“As everybody noticed, the streets have been a multitude yesterday, and our crews have been impacted by gridlock as effectively,” Mapps mentioned Thursday morning. “Right now, they’re prioritizing vital roads and public security.”

Mapps mentioned he opted to stroll to his house in Southeast Portland after the Wednesday afternoon Metropolis Council session downtown.

“It took about an hour,” Mapps mentioned. “It was lovely although.”

Hamilton mentioned the most effective factor folks can do now could be keep away from driving altogether till the climate turns hotter.

“It’s snowy. The roads are harmful. And it’s chilly,” he mentioned. “So I feel that it is a good day simply to remain off the roads and be protected.”

Editor’s word: This story has been up to date to mirror the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s choice to not cite drivers who deserted their automobiles Wednesday evening.