Road crews wrap up storm effort, look to next one

Plows on Stewart Avenue in Garden City. (Jan Plows on Stewart Avenue in Garden City. (Jan 3, 2014) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Temperatures predicted to yo-yo between the mid-40s and single digits for the first full workweek of 2014 could present challenges for motorists and road crews, officials said Friday as cleanup from the year's first snowstorm continued.

After an outcry following last February's blizzard -- in which dozens of motorists along the Long Island Expressway were stranded, with some plowed in -- officials in Albany and on Long Island were primed for action Thursday into Friday.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took the pre-emptive step of announcing closure of the LIE from the Queens/Nassau County border east. The expressway ultimately was closed from midnight to 8 a.m. Friday.

Two local tow-truck firms were deployed to remove disabled vehicles that might hamper plowing efforts, officials said. As of late Friday, three vehicles had required towing.

The estimated $38,000 cost for the two firms was covered by their existing state Department of Transportation parkway towing contracts, spokeswoman Eileen Peters said. The storm's overall cost to the state DOT was unavailable because the cleanup still was underway.

"We have not stood down any manpower or equipment," Peters said late Friday afternoon. "We're still in the midst of the cleanup, with crews working through Saturday to clear snow from the shoulders, tune up equipment and replenish salt for the next one."

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At the same time, she said, the department is closely monitoring the weather so crews can react quickly to the predicted temperature drops.

One of the jobs still being tackled last night: clearing large snow piles pushed out onto roadways from roadside businesses, requiring crews to return multiple times to the same locations.

After the February blizzard, state DOT plow routes were reconfigured and shortened for increased efficiency.

Officials credited Friday's road-clearing response to the route changes, the LIE travel ban and pre-treatment of state roads and several major town and county thoroughfares with calcium chloride brine. The brine, best applied when roads are dry, forms a protective barrier on the pavement. When moisture hits it, the calcium chloride is activated and can melt snow.

The snowstorm was the largest since the blizzard of Feb. 8-9, after which then-DOT regional director Subi Chakraborti was placed on administrative leave. He has since retired and is yet to be replaced.

In the towns, officials cast a weary eye toward the forecast, with some keeping snow emergencies in effect into Saturday.

Frank Petrignani, spokesman for the Brookhaven Town Highway Department, said the department is monitoring the forecast closely. Monday's predicted rain means pre-treating roadways with salt or brine would be ineffective, he noted.

The National Weather Service is forecasting a high of 45 for Melville on Monday, with rain before 3 p.m. followed by an overnight low of 7. That would enable a window from late afternoon, once roads dry, to pre-treat for snow or ice.

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"We are making sure we have adequate staffing and materials available to deal with any conditions that may arise," Petrignani said.

Huntington Highway Superintendent Pete Gunther said he, too, is watching the forecast closely.

Many roads were passable for motorists by midday Friday, but officials warned people to stay home because of frigid temperatures and icy roads that could remain slick. Blowing snow was a problem for drivers and road crews until the wind subsided late Friday.

Hempstead Town had cleared more than 90 percent of its roads by 1 p.m., spokesman Michael Deery said. The town's snow emergency was lifted shortly before 7 p.m., he said.

In Long Beach, where a snow emergency will remain in effect until noon Saturday, Councilman Anthony Eramo and City manager Jack Schnirman said plows would remain on the streets through the evening and into this morning. Salt also was being spread to lessen hazardous driving conditions, they said.

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With Carl MacGowan, James T. Madore, Deborah S. Morris, Ted Phillips and Patrick Whittle

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