December 13, 2007

This State Is in Major Trouble

Justin Katz

I just saw a report on channel 10 that there are still — at 9:00 p.m. — children on buses from schools that let out at 12:30 or 1:00. People abandoning their cars because of traffic generated during a modestly heavy snow storm? This state is embarrassing.

Heads ought to roll in government offices tomorrow (they won't), but that's not really the extent of it. Our government is a problem, yes, but so is the general infrastructure. So is the way the state has built itself. So are the culture of the state and the ways in which people act and what they prioritize.

In part, this is what happens to a state that ranks 9th in the nation (per capita) for direct general expenditures, but 45th for transportation and 46th for highways (PDF). Ranking 9th for elementary and secondary education isn't such a prize when schools can't get children home within eight hours of dismissal even during inclement weather and heavy traffic. (Where's the money going that Providence needs two bus runs?) Those #1-ranking fire protection expenditures don't mean a whole lot when a crumbing infrastructure and foolish/selfish drivers block up roads, preventing fire trucks from getting through (as I heard on WPRO on my way home).

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As of 9:30PM, Cicilline still has no clue how many students are still stranded, but they've finally begun to send out police SUV's to "rescue" the stranded kids!

This has nothing to do with spending--it's about poor management decisions (when to send kids home from school, where/when to dispatch plow trucks, etc.)

Not exactly a stellar performance from gubernatorial candidate Cicilline or the RI DOT....

Posted by: Anthony at December 13, 2007 9:47 PM

Well, I just got home to Riverside at 9:40pm -- almost exactly seven hours after I left from Narragansett. Fortunately, I was smart enough to raid a Dunkin' Donuts down there beforehand ... otherwise, I'd probably would have frozen and starved on the highway.

I'm not quite old enough to vividly remember the Blizzard of '78 (other than what I've read), but this had to have at least been a good simulation. I must have passed 40-50 cars, mostly on I-95 which were broken down or were otherwise unable to keep going, in all lanes and at all angles, and about a half dozen tractor trailers. The roads were slush-filled hell holes. There was literally a two foot tall mountain of snow between the two left lanes and two right ones, so that you couldn't change lanes, which you had to do, since there were so many broken down cars.

On the bright side, I did get to chat with more than a few nice people in the middle of the roadway, since we had nothing else worth doing. We discussed various applications of torches and pitchforks, as well as medieval torture devices, since we were all parked on the highway for literally hours. Unlike the DOT, we decided to be productive with our time while we scraped off our cars right in the middle of the highway.

This was so amazingly beyond incompetent. This was downright dangerous. I don't just want heads to roll -- I want them placed on pikes, dipped in kerosene, and used as torches ... for starters. If we can't handle 6-7 inches of snow or sleet, how on God's green Earth would we handle something like a terrorist attack or something like that?

PS Did you ever notice that whenever the Gov goes away, something bad happens? If he's looking for a few more layoffs to balance the budget, I can certainly think of a few people at DOT to add to the list. By the way, where's Lt. Gov. Liz "Wonderwoman" Roberts been today? Doesn't she coordinate EMA?

Posted by: Will at December 13, 2007 10:08 PM

You're right on Justin.

The Government cannot do anything correctly. It can't even prepare for a relativelty small snow storm that was 630 WPRO and other news stations reported to be coming for days.

It's not just Cicilline, though it is in large part, it's all politicians.

We need more spokespeople to spread this message: Government can't get anything right. It's a waste of money.

Posted by: Theracapulas at December 13, 2007 10:11 PM

Oh my word. Those poor children. Those poor parents.

Next time 6-9 inches of snow is predicted for a work day afternoon, school needs to be cancelled outright, not let out early. Whether it's congestion that prevents roads from being plowed or DOT incompetence (are there gps tracking devices on DOT plows?), this state and especially Providence are apparently not capable of handling a snow storm.

The ProJo article says that Pawtucket basically didn't intend to start plowing until 6:00 pm (even though the snow had started over six hours earlier). Dan Yorke said he and some guys shoveled a car out of a major intersection in the Capitol City that had been untouched by plows. Do you suppose Providence quietly made the same decision as Pawtucket? "We'll just wait until everyone gets home to plow." And for once, I'm not pointing a finger at the Mayor. This could have been an unofficial decision by the DPW.

By the way, Boston had the same hellacious problems as Providence. Did that cop on the front page get out of that scene alive?

Posted by: Monique at December 13, 2007 10:29 PM

P.S. Glad you finally made it home, Will!

Posted by: Monique at December 13, 2007 10:35 PM

I don't see anything on that indicates that the city's experience was anything at all like Providence's.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 13, 2007 10:43 PM

Sorry, the caption on the Globe photo is:

"A police officer directed traffic in the storm Thursday evening as the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Boylston Street degenerated into a chaotic mess."

Followed by pictures and desciptions of gridlocked traffic in and around Boston.

Isn't that kind of what happened in RI?

Posted by: Monique at December 13, 2007 10:55 PM


More importantly, did you ever make it back home from Fall River? What a day!

By the way, while I was stranded on the highway for all those hours, I took copious digital photos with my phone (I'll post them at later tonight). Since the battery on it died a few hours ago, I'm just waiting for it to charge a little, so that I can upload the photos. I took them so I had some proof when the RIDOT tries to pretend nothing bad happened, like they did with the Iway opening. The "roads are clear" my rear!

Posted by: Will at December 13, 2007 10:56 PM

Took me about 3 1/2 hours to get home from Worcester, so I was pretty angry when I arrived. Seeing and hearing other people's experiences in making me even more angry.
The hell really started once I got off 146 in Lincoln.
I've driven up the massive hill on Mineral Spring Ave. in many snowstorms, even ones that brought a good deal more snow than today's. Not today - too many stalled and struggling in front of me to get a good run.
If only more employers had been as prescient as my dentist, who shifted my 3 p.m. apppointment to early morning. Must buy him drink at next opportunity.
I can't think of much else of substance Joe Garrahy achieved in eight years as governor, but damn, Rhode Island could have used him today.

Posted by: rhody at December 13, 2007 11:00 PM

Yes, Will, thank heavens. I left at 6:00 and got home around 8:30. It was a bit harrowing not being able to see through the ice cube that was my windshield; lots of ditches called to my car along the way.

But the roads going through eastern Rhode Island had clearly been plowed. So in that way, I was very lucky.

Posted by: Monique at December 13, 2007 11:07 PM

Get ready for the excuses!

Here are some suggestions--

RI EMA: It really wasn't our job (because we're not really sure what our job is)

RI DOT: Neighboring states experience the same problems (must have missed the abandoned cars in Boston)

Mayor Cicilline and Providence Public Schools: We let our kids out at the same time as other schools (but somehow their 8 year olds made it home before midnight)

Posted by: Anthony at December 13, 2007 11:10 PM

I grew up near Rochester NY. This mess would be unthinkable there. If you vote Democrat, you need look no further than the mirror to see who to blame. You vote the scalliwags and wastrels in, they pooch the gas tax for purposes other than transportation and they support unions who resist cross training and flexibility to cope with extraordinary circumstances, and outsourcing/contracting that would also help. And you KNOW a modest storm like this will be a disaster, given our circumstances. So you rush pell-mell to get home ahead of the worst of the snow that won't be plowed, and the roads that would be jammed even in the best of weather become an absolute nightmare in the winter slopfest.
BTW, my 12 mile commute home at 4:45 took me about 30 minutes, but I was nowhere near the cities.
Also, I'm not interested in what happened in Boston. Maybe they need to put some heads on poles, too.

Posted by: chuckR at December 13, 2007 11:13 PM

[Let's keep those excuses coming, people. Obviously, if the state hadn't short-changed aid to Providence last year ...]

Rhody, aside from the Providence end, any assessment of how well Route 146 in Mass was cleared vs. RI? Or did you leave too early to tell?

Posted by: Monique at December 13, 2007 11:19 PM

rhody, maybe they could make Joe Garrahy a color commentator for the next snow storm?

Posted by: Anthony at December 13, 2007 11:22 PM

>>If you vote Democrat, you need look no further than the mirror to see who to blame. You vote the scalliwags and wastrels in, they pooch the gas tax for purposes other than transportation and they support unions who resist cross training and flexibility to cope with extraordinary circumstances, and outsourcing/contracting that would also help.

Rhode Island government is incompetent. So what else is new? Been that way for decades.

Recall the "Blizzard of '78" and the locally famous photo in the Providence Journal of Rt. 195 (if I remember correctly) at the MA / RI line - the MA side was totally cleared, while the RI side hadn't even been touched.

The Democrats in charge now are the children and nieces and nephews of the Democrats that were in charge then, so what'd you expect?

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at December 13, 2007 11:56 PM

Posted on Ri Future earlier today

Lt Gov Roberts - Missing in Action?

Even if Carcieri is out of the country, where the hell is the Lt Gov during this storm?

She is an absolute moron!

Why isn't she in the RIEMA Cmd Center overseeing the DOT efforts?

What a joke!

At least Charlie Fogarty was ALWAYS involved.

This idiot doesn't have a clue.

by: Aldo @ Thu Dec 13, 2007 at 21:18:40 PM EST

PS Sen. Alves' brother "Chuck" is Chief of Staff at DOT. I believe last published report had him with a salary of $139K!!! Got to love RI!!!

Posted by: Aldo at December 14, 2007 12:27 AM

This is absolutely amazing. I was listening to our police radio at home a little more than an our ago, since our local roads are a complete disaster. From what I was told, the radio has been very busy tonight.

Anyway, two E.P. police officers were having a back and forth conversation related to some cars still left on the side of the road on 195 east. One of officers said over the air "how come I can see pavement on the Seekonk side?". The other one said back "you know I can't talk about that on the radio!"

Some questions are better left unanswered.

PS I was just watching a Tonight Show repeat. During the monologue, which was from a show in the winter of 2002 or 2003, Jay was making jokes about a "big snowstorm back east"(serendipity?). In one of the jokes, he actually mentioned by name "R.I. Governor Donald Carcieri (he butchered the last name) called up from his summer home in Florida and said (something like) 'I'm there with you all'" Leno then did his incredulous "shut uuuuuup". It was very funny considering.

PS He can't be allowed to leave the state! It's a curse!

Posted by: Will at December 14, 2007 12:44 AM


I have a 28 digital photo set which I took with my camera phone while in traffic, which follows my horrible commute today at

Posted by: Will at December 14, 2007 1:47 AM

Wimps! Its only 6-11 inches of snow and National Weather Services was tracking this storm all week just like the next 2 coming.

During the Blizzard of 78 Joe Garrahy was at the Newport Naval College and when he received a call about the weather, he left and returned to the statehouse where he stayed till everyone was dug out of snow. EMA headquarters and command post was in the basement of the statehouse, I can remember which Governor moved them to the RI National Guard. EMA is the lost child with no state budget.

Woonsocket had 36 inches of snow on the ground. The blizzard dumped another 56 inches on Woonsocket. My next door neighbor’s house was covered over by a snow drift. I could walk directly off my patio deck onto 8 feet of snow.

It started snowing in Providence at about 9 AM and I left Providence at 2:30 PM heading for Pawtucket to pick up my wife of 35 years who died last year, We left her place of business at 3:30 PM in a DatsunB-210 stick–shift with no snow tires or chains and arrived home in Woonsocket 5:30 PM a normal 25 min drive. I followed RT-122 because the trees and building blocked the drifting snow plus it was only 2 lanes so the road would stay pretty clear. We were snowed in for 10 days but you should have smelled the air in RI. Very clean and sweet smelling.

YES Ragin’ Rhode Islander, on 195 the highway was down to bare pavement on the Massachusetts side up to the Rhode Island line which was still snow covered. It was also the case on the Northern Rhode Island Massachusetts boarder.

During the blizzard of 78 RIDOT could not plow because when people got stuck they just left their cars and started walking. In Providence, once grid-lock occurred when people got out of work, Providence DOT could not plow. Pawtucket mostly plows the main routes during the storm and then side streets after the storm.

An emergency stash of Navy SEABEE heavy equipment stored at Quonset Point saved RI and RIDOT’s ability to clear the roads along with a crew from Buffalo New York with their super heavy duty plows.

RI DOT is now run by Jerome F. Williams, Director who I believe last worked at Fleet Finical Services or Bank in Boston.

Good luck on your next 2 snow storms within the next 2 weeks!

Posted by: Ken at December 14, 2007 2:56 AM


The points been mostly made above, but a report using the words "gridlock" and "chaotic mess" is one thing. A report that people are abandoning their cars and school children aren't getting home until nine hours after their schools let out is another.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 14, 2007 6:18 AM

Can we please keep this is some type of context? The hysterical rantings over a glorfied traffic jam that was resolved hours later is a bit much. Joe Garrahy references? The Blizzard of '78? lol Please!
Providence must answer for kids stranded on school buses into the night but that was hardly a statewide thingy. Same for traffic jams. Was not a statewide problem at all. Justin hit the nail on the head infrastructure is the problem. All those caught in traffic delays for hours were delayed by the volume of traffic on the roads not by snowdrifts. Rush hour traffic in the middle of a snowstorm is not a good thing as we saw yesterday. All it takes is one accident to bring everything to a halt and that's precisely what happened yesterday. Guess what? If you're not moving on that highway then plows and sand trucks are not moving on that highway either.
A little level headed conversation please. Save the over the top and silly hysteria for talk radio.

Posted by: Tim at December 14, 2007 7:39 AM

38 cities and towns got their kids home by supper. Sissyline didn't. Great commercial for 2010 (if the corrupt mayor hasn't been indicted by then).

6 inches of snow + hundreds of kids on buses till midnight = a failed gubernatorial bid.

Posted by: Mike at December 14, 2007 8:19 AM

[Upon further consideration, I withdraw my comparison of Providence's experience to Boston's.]

"Was not a statewide problem at all."

Well ... Route 95 is statewide and it was a problem from the get-go. Will's nine and a half hour EP to SK to EP trek is testimony to that.

Posted by: Monique at December 14, 2007 8:26 AM

Even though the snow started about 2-3 hours too early, it was well known how intense the storm was going to be. All schools should have been closed all day yesterday. It would have kept thousands of cars off the road ways yesterday. Staff, faculty and many parents would have been off the roads and those who had to work could have more of a chance to get home in a more reasonable amount of time.

I left Providence about 2pm and didn't see a snow plow until I go off the road in Warwick at the airport exit and headed down route 1.

Posted by: tcc3 at December 14, 2007 8:39 AM

I saw the Mayor on TV last evening answering for the fact that the roads were not pre-treated. His claim was that they were. I tend to disagree. I was in Providence all morning, shuttling from meeting to meeting, and did not see 1 truck spreading salt and sand. At the very beginning of the storm, it took me an hour and 40 minutes to get from my office to the train station and back; a trip that should take 15 minutes, tops.

The Mayor needs to fall on his sword, take responsibility and get it right on Saturday, when the real storm may hit. That doesn't address the state DOT issues. My brother left Quincy MA, where he is a teacher, at 1:45 and made it home to Broadway at 10:30pm so Massachusetts was an issue, as well.

As for the '78 remembrances: I say keep 'em coming. That was a real storm. I lived in Cranston but went to school at Moses Brown; where I was stranded for four days. On the fourth day, a number of us walked down Hope Street and Wickenden - to Allens Ave and a highway onramp near the old Viaduct (sp?). One of the parents had a Chevy Suburban and managed to get through.

I remember two things vividly. One: walking on the tops of buried cars left by their owners on Wickenden. The other: Much like the DOT, I underestimated the potential of the storm prior to its arrival. I left the house that morning wearing topsiders and no socks. Though I had gotten socks from my sports locker, I had no boots and am amazed that I never lost any toes during my walk.


Posted by: Jon Scott at December 14, 2007 10:48 AM

Monique, 146 wasn't easy (didn't notice any major difference from Mass. to R.I.), but I've driven it in worse. I usually exit at Twin River, but it started backing up around the lime quarry (about 3:45-4 p.m.) - that's when I suspected big trouble near home.
To address Roberts' role (or lack of it), if Carcieri did not inform her that he was going to Iraq (Jeff Neal's comments sounded like the gov was not responsible for telling her he was gone, and accordingly leaving her the keys in case of emergency), that was embarassing and irresponsible.

Posted by: rhody at December 14, 2007 11:42 AM

How did Roberts not know Carcieri was out of the country? I mean, it's been on the radio (and probably other media outlets) for the past, say 3 or 4 days. Does she live under a rock, or is she simply a moron? I'm amazed (well, not really, as it is RI we're talking about) there is no protocol for a transfer of power from the Gov. to Lt. Gov. when he or she is out of the country. Anyone else notice stuff like this only seems to happen when Carcieri is out of town, btw?

Posted by: Siva at December 14, 2007 12:29 PM

Roberts and Cicilline both showed what they are truly made of. If either one were a leader they would have been front and center last night. To blame others for your own lack of responsibility is a sure sign that you do not have it in you to be a leader.

Even if Carcieri were fully engaged and on TV all night, nothing would have stopped Roberts from stepping up and being responsible, concerned and engaged. Instead she chose to wait until the next day, sound off and point the finger (albeit not the Crowley finger).

Cicilline's complete obliviousness to the plight of hundreds of school children (and their worried parents) shows just how weak he is.

Posted by: George at December 14, 2007 2:59 PM

Maybe Liz should've stepped up yesterday, gone on the air and told the state she is in charge and this is what goes.
And with Carcieri not having turned over control, today she'd be condemned as Alexander Haig in pumps.
She's in a no-win.

Posted by: rhody at December 14, 2007 3:47 PM

I actually agree with Rhody to a limited degree regarding potential comparisons to Alexander "I'm in control" Haig -- but that's also putting a political calculation ahead of what's the right thing to do. A real leader leads regardless of how it might affect them personally.

Although Liz "Wonderwoman" Roberts does not apparently have the constitutional authority to literally take over the state and start barking out commands (barring certain very limited circumstances in the RI Constitution), she could have been a more visible presence much earlier, and proved the the Lt. Gov does more than bicycle around the state waiting for the Gov to kick it. If you want to place some blame somewhere, how about on the former Senate President who effectively neutered the office of Lt. Governor?

I'm going to avoid pinning blame an specific individuals, because there is clearly plenty of it to go around. The most important part of this is that we might actually learn some lessons about coordination, cooperation, and communication. Adversity allows for opportunity.

Posted by: Will at December 14, 2007 6:14 PM
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