(Updated 3:32 p.m.) CT Transit’s decision to start bus service proved premature Monday morning as buses got stuck on Dixwell Avenue in Newhallville, causing street closures near the town line and a sea of would-be riders navigating treacherous streets. A CT Transit spokesman blamed city snow-plowing.
It all started around 10 o’clock. Walter Morton was driving the D5 bus north on Dixwell right past Bassett when the wheels started spinning.
“The more you give it, the more it digs down,” he said.
At the very same moment, a G bus was passing in the other lane into New Haven. It too got stuck. An hour later, they were still waiting there, waiting for help from the state Department of Transportation (DOT).
Meanwhile, three more buses heading into New Haven from Hamden were stopped behind it.
Police closed off intersections leading into New Haven as well as several intersections just shy of the town line.
Some of Morton’s half dozen passengers decided to try to walk the rest of the route, but the streets were tricky to navigate. Lagoons had already flooded the roadway in-between super-slick islands of packed ice and snow. A.K. (pictured), who lives in Newhallville, said he had no choice and was going to walk to his job at the Magic Mile.
On the other hand, Alison Spencer (pictured) stayed warm inside the bus. She said she needed to get to work at Panera in Hamden, but didn’t want to risk the walk. Spencer lives on Lilac Street. “My street is completely covered in snow. I couldn’t even get a ride from my mom. The car was buried.”
“I am waiting on DOT to send vehicles to winch us out. We shouldn’t have been out here,” said driver Morton at the front of the bus. By that time, an O bus and a second D5 bus were already cued up, marooned, between Bassett and Elizabeth Street.
“This is ridiculous,” said another driver, who asked not to be named. CT Transit shouldn’t have started the buses until the streets were safer, she said.
David Lee, CT Transit’s general manager, defended the decision to resume bus service Monday.
“I think it was a prudent decision to try to start service today after we’d been shut down for two and a half days,” he said. He said when CT Transit made the decision to restart buses in Hartford, Stamford and New Haven Monday, “we were most concerned about New Haven,” because “street plowing is way behind where it should be.” That proved to be a valid concern, he said.
Lee said CT Transit is making detours where roads are impassable and updating its website accordingly. “It may well be true that Dixwell Avenue [service] becomes one of the casualties” of the storm. Another problem, he said, is, in cases where the bus routes have been shortened, “how do you get the bus to the end of the line and turn it around?”
Lee said CT Transit plans to continue service for the time being. However, “one thing we are concerned about is the rain. If the temperature drops after the sun goes down—if wet streets become icy streets—we may have to pull buses off,” he said.
New Haven’s traffic czar, Jim Travers, said he was surprised by Lee’s remarks and the bus situation.
Speaking from New Haven’s emergency operations center hours after the bus tie-up, Travers (pictured) said he had asked CT Transit to resume service so people going to work wouldn’t have to try to park downtown (a dicey proposition). He said CT Transit did a test run on Sunday to see which routes would work best; it did not rely on city suggestions for routes. Travers said he asked a division manager to contact him if the buses encounter any problems; he promised to send a public-works crew to help. No one at CT Transit had contacted him Monday about the problem on Dixwell, he said.
Lee contacted the Independent later on Monday afternoon to clarify his remarks.
“I did not mean to denigrate the City of New Haven’s effort to clear streets,” he stated. “We operate service throughout the greater New Haven area, so my comment about New Haven having more problems than Hartford of Stamford meant the region as a whole, not just the city.” He called it “understandable they have more problems because they also got more snow.”
Now The Floods
As steady rain added to Winter Storm Nemo’s 34 inches of snow Monday morning, the streets of New Haven were fast entering a new phase: flooding.
Farther down Dixwell, fog was already setting in. Police spokesman Dave Hartman cautioned that with temperatures reaching the 40s and rain falling, the fog would increase. He urged people to stay off streets with renewed urgency. Road conditions were taking an unpredictable turn and proving more difficult to clear.
In order to get rid of this hard pack, the roads would have to be milled, Hartman said, balancing on a slick frozen island amid a Dixwell Avenue lagoon in front of Shekinah Apostolic Church. “They tried it on the LIE [Long Island Expressway] yesterday,” he said. It didn’t work. You’d end up chopping the road.