New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo halted travel on Long Island’s roads and rails Saturday to combat an onslaught from Mother Nature that blanketed parkways, delayed trains and canceled thousands of flights.
Cuomo stopped all mass transit travel as of 4 p.m. and banned road travel as of 2:30 p.m. for all nonemergency vehicles on Long Island and New York City parkways and expressways.
“We’ve had bad experiences in the past when people have been stuck on the Long Island Expressway when they shouldn’t have,” Cuomo said during a midday news conference in Melville.
“Plows can’t keep up. The situation is getting worse. The last thing we want is for it to get later in the day and have a lot of people on the roads in dangerous circumstances,” he said.
The travel ban will be lifted at 7 a.m. Sunday, Cuomo said Saturday night.
The travel ban marks the second time in 13 months that officials closed roads after a disastrous 2013 storm stranded dozens of drivers on the LIE and elsewhere in Suffolk County.
Cuomo issued a similar curfew during a January 2015 storm that dumped 24 inches on Islip.
The governor said it was important to close the highways to keep residents safe at home and to keep roads clear for emergency crews and snow plows. He said one car getting stuck on the LIE can back up the entire highway for hours.
“I can’t express the chaos when a single car gets stuck and the plows can’t move. Once the road is closed, you have serious problems,” Cuomo said during a conference call Saturday night. “I learned lessons the hard way when people were stranded on the LIE through the night. It’s a very dangerous situation. Sometimes you get criticized no matter which way you go, and I erred on the side of safety.”
Saturday’s storm also hit harder than Long Island Rail Road officials had anticipated.
The last LIRR trains left at 4 p.m. due to heavy snow that was interfering with switches and other equipment, officials said.
Cuomo’s order to suspend service comes despite LIRR officials’ expectations that they would be able to operate trains throughout the weekend with minimal impact.
The LIRR had been reporting systemwide delays of up to 25 minutes throughout most of Saturday and canceled some trains because of “winter weather conditions,” but has otherwise been running its normal schedule.
But, LIRR spokeswoman Meredith Daniels said, the storm had already stuck around far longer than initial forecasts predicted.
“We thought that maybe by 8 o’clock, we would be out of the water,” Daniels said. “So while we’re getting by now, it’s piling up and it’s going to continue to pile up. And you just can’t keep up with it at some point.”
The Nassau Inter-County Express also suspended all bus service Saturday afternoon because of “near white out conditions and accumulating snow on many roadways,” according to a NICE statement.
NICE will review conditions Sunday morning to determine a timeline for resuming fixed route service.
Having already suspended all bus service on Saturday, Suffolk County Transit announced that it would also not operate on Sunday.
“Tomorrow roads will continue to be plowed and cleaned up after this storm and it is likely that treacherous conditions will remain at least for part of the day,” Suffolk Public Works Commissioner Gilbert Anderson said. “We will resume normal service on Monday.”
Flights were also halted for most of the day in and out of Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey spokesman Scott Ladd said. Airlines canceled more than 2,400 flights through Saturday and were unsure when flights would resume.
“The airports are open, but there are no flights going in or out,” Ladd said. “The individual airlines have to decide what they want to do.”
Airport crews worked through the blizzard, but many airlines were waiting until Sunday to reassess the forecast when the storm was expected to clear.
At Long Island MacArthur Airport, American Airlines canceled all its flights through 5:59 p.m. Sunday and Southwest said it expects to resume service Monday morning.
With Jennifer Barrios