December 14, 2007

(In Some Ways) The City Is the State

Justin Katz

To provide some perspective on yesterday's stark warning of calamity, it's worth mentioning that I made it home to Tiverton from Newport in not much more time than usual — about an hour, with three short stops (coffee, money, and newspaper). In other words, Will Ricci's nine-hour trip from East Providence to South Kingstown and back (if I read correctly) would likely have taken him less time if he'd gone all the way through Fall River and then Newport.

In a major catastrophe, many people would realize such things and clog that route, as well.

With respect to my comments on Rhode Island state expenditures, I'm confident (though I haven't looked up the numbers) that one would find that a large percentage of our top-of-the-country social and union spending goes to Providence, and that a large percentage of our bottom-of-the-country infrastructure spending does as well. In that context, it seems to me, one can't tease the city and the state apart in allocating blame.

All of the bums in RI government have to go. All Rhode Islanders have to wake up, before something truly horrific happens.

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This is the big fat government that all liberals love. All you have to do is look at this government debacle, and then look back at Katrina. How do you think this same mentality operates with the Department of Health, all social services, or how about our schools, which we know SUCK! - despite all the money we throw at them.

It is all the same. There is one thing we need to do - CUT THEM OFF! Just cut the funding and give it back to the taxpayers. At least when we get nothing we won't have paid for it.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at December 14, 2007 11:03 AM

When I've spoken in the past about people who blame unions when it rains (or snow), I intended it as a joke.
After reading the above, that joke doesn't seem funny anymore.

Posted by: rhody at December 14, 2007 11:31 AM

A surprising approach from you Justin. I would have thought that your view on the snow storm would have gone like this:

"It snows in New England. When it does, traffic slows. That is especially true when it snows in the middle of a work day. Government can't stop the snow and it can't plow streets when people are on them. This was far from a calamity. It was a snow storm."

Time for everyone to take a deep breath and recognize that this is not a RI issue. Take a peek at the front page of today's Boston Globe and you will see an article detailing that traffic conditions were the same there as they were here: long delays, snarled traffic, plow complaints, and so forth.

You can't plow streets in the middle of a fast storm that hits in the middle of a work day like you can when it snows in the middle of the night.

Posted by: Pragmatist at December 14, 2007 12:05 PM

From the Journal:

Providence Emergency Management Director Leo Messier said that the school bus situation is "inconvenient," but that children have cell phones to call parents and they "will get home eventually."

This guy should get the shoe first.

Posted by: Red at December 14, 2007 12:09 PM

Basically, I left the Providence area about 11:45am, on my way initially through Wakefield and nearby Narragansett. It was not snowing when I left. A little after Noon, it started to snow hard. I got to Narragansett 2 1/2 hours after I started, since I really couldn't turn around anywhere. I never saw a plow or a sand truck on my side of the highway the entire time.

After I was supposed to leave Narragansett, I was supposed to then go to through Aquidneck Island and then head back to E.P. like I normally do from the West Bay. However, I was never able to cross the bridges, because I was told at that time that they were impassible, so I was told to turn around and head back north. Big, big mistake!

I really wonder if I would have saved hours (and gas money) if I had waited for the bridges to clear up better, instead of taking the interstate. I had no expectation that Route 95 would be treated with such low priority. I took it because I assumed it would be the top priority for the RIDOT to keep clear. It boggles the mind that I could have made it to Washington DC and checked into a hotel in the time I spent in traffic yesterday. Arrrrgh!

Posted by: Will at December 14, 2007 12:12 PM

I might have reacted that way, Pragmatist, back when I didn't know how insanely out of whack RI's government spending is. If the roads were in better repair, and if they made sense in their design, then problems such as yesterday's would be mitigated.

No, yesterday was not the end of the world, but if we don't start expressing outrage at the catastrophic inconveniences, then the problems won't be solved before something truly horrific happens. We can't wait until some emergency puts everybody on the roads at the same time and the backups due to pot-holed, confusing roads leaves roads bumper to bumper and the poorly maintained bridges start to let go.

Is that likely to happen the day after tomorrow? I doubt it. But if we don't start fixings things now, our odds go up.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 14, 2007 12:28 PM

As is the case with every snowstorm, yesterday's panicky exodus is a direct vote of no confidence in government's ability to do the work necessary to keep the roads reasonably clear. It has nothing to do with roadbuilding or repair. In states with effective DOT services, people feel justified in waiting a while longer at work or completing their workday. In RI, people feel justified bugging out ASAP. Both are reasonable reactions. Unfortunately, no road system is designed for the massive overload of traffic of everyone departing at once, and thats true in summer as well. The solution, and it will take a number of years for people to get comfortable with, is to get the plows and sanders out early and often. To do that, the DOTs and city DPWs must have the resources. To get the resources, we need to stop voting in people who divert gas tax revenues (on the state level) from transportation, including repair as well as keeping the roads clear. And maybe we need to start handing out tickets to people who have cars with tires that aren't Goodyear Eagles, but rather Bald Eagles....

Posted by: chuckR at December 14, 2007 1:03 PM


I dont know what time you were told the bridges were impassable but I work with a couple of people who left from Cranston around 2:00 pm to the Portsmouth/Little Compton areas via Newport and had little problem. They say obviously they took it slow and it much took longer than usual but they ran into no traffic jams and gridlock. It's why I hate the broad brush that is being used right now to describe the work of the DOT. Those were state roads my co-wokrers traveled on and they got where they needed to go without incident.
The truly amazing thing?
Neither needed a press conference from a politician to tell them not to go their usual route through Providence but to go through Newport. They figured that out all by themselves. Amazing isn't it? lol
Very troubled by the blame game the media is ginning up right now. Helen Glover was very responsible with her show this morning but whiney John Depetro made an absolute fool of himself.

Posted by: Tim at December 14, 2007 1:22 PM

All of the bums in RI government have to go. I'd start with the Carcieri administration. And not because they could not handle a snowstorm. ( Check your facts about the Lt. Gov's role.) The general incompetence with lots of arrogance thrown in for good measure of the Carcieri crowd are more than enough reasons to boot them. Maybe their lack of imagination too.

Posted by: David at December 14, 2007 3:02 PM

Based on the tales I've heard today about getting around Boston and Worcester yesterday, Rhode Islanders aren't the only folks feeling the old outrage.
The Sunday storm, I can promise you, will not create this kind of quagmire (remember, most of us are gonna be home watching the Patriots, and those who do have to get to work won't be in as much danger from the mistakes and hubris of other drivers).
Come Monday morning, Carcieri, Cicilline and their crews need to have a sitdown, check their egos at the door, and focus on making sure yesterday's boondoggle doesn't happen again.
It would've been nice to see some leadership yesterday (Garrahy '78, Carcieri after the Station fire, etc.). I don't care which side, which party, etc. leadership comes from next time - I just want to see it again.

Posted by: rhody at December 14, 2007 3:33 PM


Nice try about Carcieri, but he won't be running next time. You should remember how well Cicilline and Roberts performed in their roles yesterday when they run for governor.

Posted by: chuckR at December 14, 2007 5:30 PM


Unfortunately, like a lot of people yesterday, I was apparently given some conflicting, wrong, or untimely information. The weather didn't really start getting severe for me until I was already in East Greenwich near Rt. 4). After I eventually got to Narragansett, I headed back north to take 138 East to go through Jamestown and then to Newport, etc.

By the time I'd made it back to the area where 1 and 138 meet, at about 3pm, I was told by my employer that the rest of the days work was canceled and to avoid taking the bridges, and head back, because they had been told that people where having a tough time just getting to them (which I think happened for at least some period of time, because at least where I was, the areas I was in just did not show signs of plowing). Even if they could get to them, I was told that the inclines on the bridges were a problem (like what happened on the Thurbers Ave curve in Providence later on). Considering that Route 1 (Tower Hill Rd.) was already a complete mess, with a number of [rear wheel drive?] cars unable to negotiate the inclines, I was simply told to avoid the bridges and just go back the same way I came, which with 20/20 hindsight ended up being the totally wrong advice. But, there was no shortage of bad advice on Thursday, right?

PS Besides the lack of accurate information from the government, I also noticed that the big bright "Amber Alert" signs went largely underutilized, usually just displaying a generic "Winter Weather Conditions, Use Caution", instead of actually providing meaningful information, like, I don't know, the highway's closed, take the next exit, go another way, etc. Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining.

Posted by: Will at December 14, 2007 5:53 PM

Will is right about the "peeing on my leg and telling me it's raining statement".

The whole point is that yesterday should NOT have been a big deal. Clearing the streets and getting kids home is basic function of government. It's like asking David Ortiz to hit a fastball thrown by a Little Leaguer.

Yet somehow RI DOT, the City of Providence and EMA all blew it.

Fortunately, nobody was injured or got killed. But what if tensions on the roads led to a few shootings? What if the conditions led to a HAZMAT incident? All very real possibilities and it's obvious that neither state nor city government was prepared to respond if such incidents occurred.

Ultimately, most of us escaped relatively unscathed, although if I were the parent of a Providence school child sitting on a bus until 9PM, I wouldn't dare to be so dismissive.

Cicilline's performance was late, but he at least tried to give the appearance of taking charge when he figured out that things were worse than he originally thought. Strange that we track FedEx packages more closely than our kids.

The Providence EMA director's statement that the situation was "inconvenient", but that kids will get some "eventually" indicates that he doesn't even understand his job. RI EMA's statement that it didn't warrant their involvement made me wonder what they do 360 days out of the year (apparently they activate for a few days around the Tall Ships activities in Newport--maybe we need to have our snow emergencies in a nicer place like Killington?).

As for the back and forth between the Gov. and the Lt. Gov., I didn't see anything from either of them until the morning after.

Nobody really looked good yesterday, but here's a thought: fire everyone who is minimizing yesterday's fiasco and get those officials who understand that things are screwed up together to solve the problems for the future.

Posted by: Anthony at December 14, 2007 7:12 PM

"They'll get home eventually"?? Did someone forget to tell Leo what the "E" in Providence EMA stands for?

... Oh, and that he's the director?

Posted by: Monique at December 15, 2007 12:31 AM
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