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Transportation officials get ready for storm

Cars and a plow navigate through the wet

Cars and a plow navigate through the wet weather on Glen Cove Road in Carle Place on Jan. 2, 2014. Credit: Howard Schnapp

State officials early Friday morning will assess whether to reopen the Long Island Expressway after its scheduled overnight closure for a snowstorm that Thursday slowed traffic, diminished transportation options and shut down flights.

Fleets of snowplows, spreaders, trucks and snow-clearing trains swept through the streets, highways and rails Thursday as the first snowstorm of the year approached. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in midafternoon announced plans to close the LIE -- the Island's largest roadway -- from midnight until 5 a.m., when the brunt of the storm was to hit. The closure stretched from the New York City border east through Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Even with liberal applications of about 24,500 tons of salt on state roads and the use of a calcium-chloride solution to keep melted snow from turning to ice, officials warned drivers that major roads could become slick from the cold.

"Drivers should not be on the road," said Eileen Peters, Long Island spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation. "At the height of the storm -- if it tracks as predicted at this stage -- there will be blizzard-like, whiteout conditions."

Other modes of transportation also struggled with the leading edge of the storm.

All flights had been canceled as of 6 p.m. at Long Island MacArthur Airport. About 650 flights were canceled at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports, according to the Port Authority. Officials recommended passengers check with their airlines to see if planes are flying after the storm.

The Long Island Rail Road had fitted trains with ice-scraping equipment and started applying an antifreeze solution to rails early Thursday, .

The rail road will operate on a weekend schedule Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said late Thursday, meaning there will be no service on the West Hempstead branch, or east of Ronkonkoma on the Ronkonkoma branch. Bus service between Ronkonkoma and Greenport will be provided instead, he said.

Counties, towns and villages started salting, sanding and treating roads in the morning and afternoon, but were cautioning drivers to stay off the roads as the mix of snow, wind and cold temperatures could lead to treacherous conditions despite their efforts.

Buses were scheduled to run through the night in both counties. But riders could experience lengthy delays, said Nassau Inter-County Express chief executive Michael Setzer.

NICE buses were expected to run on a normal schedule Friday, Setzer said, but officials couldn't predict how service would be affected by other vehicles getting stuck on roadways along the bus routes.

"We can make it up the inclines, but cars in front of us can't," Setzer said.

Suffolk County Transit will evaluate road conditions throughout the storm, said Suffolk County Public Works Commissioner Gilbert Anderson.

Suffolk County had distributed more than 16,000 tons of salt to nine locations, and started spreading it on roads early to minimize the chance of icing, Anderson said. The county would use sand later to help with traction.

A fleet of 61 pieces of county equipment -- mostly heavy trucks equipped with plows and salt distributors -- was salting roads and county facilities by noon. The number was expected to swell to more than 150 with the use of private contractors as the storm progresses.

"One thing we have learned from superstorm Sandy is you can never be too prepared," said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

Nassau County deployed 88 plows and spreaders and had 12,000 tons of salt in store, said Department of Public Works spokesman Michael Martino. The county would mainly use its own workforce and equipment, including loaders and pickups, to clear roads.

Some commuters who made their daily journey to New York City before conditions worsened heeded official warnings and leaving Manhattan's Penn Station earlier than normal.

Jim Arsenault, a health care industry worker from East Williston, waited for his train shortly before 2:30 p.m., not wanting to re-create his experience in a 2012 storm when his late-afternoon train got stuck in the snow.

"I left work early to beat the rush," said Arsenault, 57. "I've learned from my past experiences."

In New York City, MTA bridges were unlikely to close, said agency spokeswoman Judie Glave, but the authority could ban some vehicles, such as motorcycles and school buses, if there are high winds.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would have 1,700 plows attached to refuse collection trucks and would look "to serve all five boroughs equally" through the storm.

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