Connecticut’s Storm Ban Snarls Trucking

Connecticut’s 31-hour ban on tractor-trailers traveling on state highways because of a severe winter storm forecast impacted the state. But to what extent, and how people were affected, is still not known. “We know there was an impact, but we want to know how and who was affected,” said Mike Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut. “People always ask what would happen if

Connecticut’s 31-hour ban on tractor-trailers traveling on state highways because of a severe winter storm forecast impacted the state. But to what extent, and how people were affected, is still not known.

“We know there was an impact, but we want to know how and who was affected,” said Mike Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut. “People always ask what would happen if truckers weren’t on the road, and now we had an experiment. One state did it, and it should be analyzed.”

With what was being billed as the “Storm of the Century” looming, and with the memory of several truck-related accidents that happened during a February 5 snowstorm fresh on his mind, Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland (R) announced Sunday afternoon that tractor-trailers would be banned from state highways starting at 5 a.m. Monday. The ban was lifted at noon Tuesday.

However, Rowland’s cautious approach caused things to happen that weren’t anticipated, Riley said. For example, The U.S. Postal Service suspended mail delivery statewide, the first time it has done so since the Blizzard of 1978. It also meant farmers couldn’t get their goods to market, and hazardous waste from hospitals couldn’t be transported.

The lines of communication between the state and the trucking association did break down, Riley said, adding they weren’t informed that the ban was lifted earlier for truckers carrying perishable food. A farmer transporting live chickens to Bradley International Airport was also given clearance to roll.

Some truckers, despite the 12-hour warning issued by Rowland, were stranded at truckstops throughout the state. Riley said that from what his group heard, the majority of those truckers were carrying freight to the state, while outbound freight made it out of state before the ban took effect.

“Because the ban started at 5 a.m. and businesses were not open, some truckers had to cool their heels for a while,” Riley said. “The stars were lined up wrong. If the ban had started at noon, things could have been delivered.”

Truckers that idled their rigs at the Northbound I-95 rest stop in Darien, about 15 miles from the New York border, after the ban took effect Monday, were escorted out of the state by State Police. In that section of Connecticut, the highways are monitored by video, with the feeds leading to a State Police barracks in Bridgeport.

“The first selectman in Darien (Robert Harrel) has been concerned about safety there for quite some time, and he suggested they get the trucks out of there,” Riley said. “There was enough time to get them out before the storm hit, so I think it was a very good decision.”

However, truckers near other entry points, such as Danbury on I-84, weren’t as fortunate. They had to spend time at a rest stop that only provides vending machines, and does not have diesel facilities.

Associations from neighboring states, including New York, were not pleased with Connecticut’s ban either.

"If it was strictly Connecticut deliveries that were affected, that's their business. But when you're interfering with commerce everywhere else, that's another story," said William Joyce, president of the New York State Motor Truck Assn.

Trucks traveling to New England from the Mid-Atlantic states had to get there via Massachusetts instead.

Though Riley received several complaints from truckers Monday, he said he does not disagree with Rowland’s decision. But he is meeting with Rowland today to discuss ways the state could handle the situation differently if it happens again.

“The Governor is a good guy, and I have no bones to pick,” Riley said. “Now we have to find a silver lining.”

State police issued 31 tickets costing $77 each to truckers caught driving on the highways while the ban was in effect. Although one traffic fatality had been reported by Tuesday night, that death was unrelated to truck traffic.

As of Tuesday morning, State Police reported 231 accidents, 30 of which involved injuries. Rowland told Fleet Ownerthat during the February 5 storm, about 300 crashes were reported.

Riley said he still wants to know not only how the state was affected, but how commerce was. He said he wants to know if just carriers were hindered, and how their customers reacted to any delays. Riley said he wants people to write to him about the ban and what it meant to them at MTAC, 60 Forest St., Hartford, Conn., 06105.

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