Lawmakers Seek to Pinpoint Gaps in Blizzard Response

Monday, January 24, 2011

State officials say New Jersey has exhausted its snow budget, and has already spent $20 million. The news emerged during an Assembly committee hearing on Monday, where lawmakers sought to address gaps in the state's response to last month's blizzard.

James Simpson, the state's Department of Transportation Commissioner, testified that his department would make some changes moving forward, like equipping trucks with new radios to transmit real-time information, and GPS devices, to improve communication.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski said he wasn't satisfied with the DOT's explanation as to why state roads in Monmouth County weren't passable for days, in a statement released following the hearing.

Vehicles did become stranded during the storm. For example, hundreds of cars were stranded on I-280 during the blizzard.

Simpson had testified that 95 percent of the state's roadways were cleared — and that Monmouth received some for the heaviest snow. He said he believed his department performed well, considering the near-record snowfall and blizzard conditions.

Following the hearing, Assemblywoman Linda Stender said communication during the storm could have been better, and she wants an assessment of New Jersey's state of emergency declaration.

"The declaration this time did not include an essential personnel-only travel advisory," she said.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney stepped in as Acting Governor during the blizzard, with both New Jersey Governor Chris Chrisitie and Lieutenant Governor Kim Guandagno out of the state. Stender said Sweeney did the job he had to do during the storm, but that it was a bad decision for Christie and Guandagno to be out of New Jersey, "when we when we specifically put in a lieutenant governor position to fulfill the obligation of a governor in his absence."

Sweeney declared a state of emergency the night before the blizzard, to free up the roads for plowing. Parts of New Jersey received more than two feet of snow, according to the National Weather Service.


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