ALBANY -- The New York state Department of Transportation wasn't prepared for last weekend's snowstorm despite forecasts warning that it would be a major weather event, according to an official in an upstate county where scores of motorists were stranded for hours on two state-maintained highways.
Dutchess County Executive William Steinhaus told The Associated Press on Monday that the DOT failed to get equipment to Interstate 84 ahead of Saturday's storm, which dumped nearly 2 feet of snow on parts of the county. Dozens of vehicles got stuck on I-84 and the Taconic State Parkway, which intersect in southern Dutchess County and continue into neighboring Putnam County.
State Police said they helped more than 100 motorists trapped on the two highways in the pre-dawn hours Sunday. Dutchess County sheriff's deputies swapped the rear wheels on all-terrain vehicles for tracks used on snowmobiles and used the refitted ATVs to reach stranded motorists, all without the help from DOT crews, Steinhaus said.
"It's up to them to explain whether that's a management breakdown or a resources breakdown of people, material or staff," Steinhaus said. "There were a lot of people who were put at grave risk because the state of New York didn't do their job, and they know it. The question now is, will they correct it?"
Dana Richardson of Malverne and his 82-year-old mother got stranded on the Taconic for 10 hours after setting out from their Long Island home at about 3 p.m. Saturday and heading upstate to visit relatives in Rhinebeck, north of Poughkeepsie.
He said he saw only one snowplow the entire time. Police then brought them to a local firehouse and they eventually were taken to a local hotel, where they slept on chairs in the lobby.
"The authorities tried their best, but it seems like they were totally unprepared," said his mother, Dimitra Richardson.
The DOT didn't immediately comment Monday.
A severe snow storm in late February stranded motorists along the same stretch of I-84, while a lake-effect storm in early December left hundreds stuck overnight along the Thruway just outside Buffalo. The Thruway Authority was criticized for not doing more to keep motorists from entering snow-clogged Interstate 90 in suburban Buffalo, and then not acting quickly enough to evacuate stranded motorists. The agency recently implemented new plans for handling such snow emergencies.
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