UPDATED Saturday, November 15, 2008 --- 6:00 p.m.
State prepares new tools for snow storms
MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ State officials are preparing new tools to avoid a disaster like last February's snowstorm that stranded more than 2,000 vehicles overnight on Interstate 39-90.
Doug Dembowski, supervisor at the state traffic operations center, says retractable barriers have been installed at every interstate on ramp from the intersection of I-39-90 and I-94 in Madison to the Wisconsin-Illinois border.
Also, the state Department of Transportation plans to soon launch a 511 phone line for weather information as well as an improved Web site with information about road conditions, construction delays and incidents.
A half-dozen highway cameras for Interstate 39-90 in Rock County have been mounted and officials hope to hook them up before winter comes.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.
Updated Tuesday --- February 26, 2008 --- 12:15pm
As motorists were stranded, Wis. traffic cameras collected dust
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Traffic cameras that could have helped authorities detect a backup that stranded thousands of motorists in a snowstorm earlier this month have been in storage for years.
Authorities including Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden say the cameras could have helped them understand earlier the severity of the traffic jam between Madison and Janesville.
Spoden says he's frustrated every time he drives past poles on Interstate 39-90 that were supposed to hold the cameras.
The state bought the cameras for $20,000 in 2004 with a federal grant.
But transportation officials say the money to run them would have to come out of the Department of Transportation's already tight budget.
DOT's highway operations director David Vieth says the cameras seem like a good idea in hindsight, but before the traffic jam, there were more pressing needs to spend money on.
Updated Thursday --- February 21, 2008 -- 8:30pm
"I want to apologize to all the stranded motorists who were stranded on the interstate that day," says Wisconsin State Patrol superintendent, David Collins. "The interstate should have been closed on February 6th."
This apology comes more than 2 weeks after the interstate pileup that left almost 2 thousand motorists stranded on the highway for hours. Now the Wisconsin State Patrol is taking full responsibility for their slow response.
"The Wisconsin State Patrol did not recognize early enough the potential and the eventual severity of this backup and the need to deal with those vehicles trapped inside of it."
Brigadier General Don Dunbar, who prepared the interstate pileup report, pinpoints that "...this delay in recognition caused the loss of precious hours that could have allowed alternative courses of action to be considered which might have mitigated the depth and breadth of this emergency."
"I am not blasting the State Patrol, I'm being critical," says Dunbar. "I think we were all frustrated that night and yes I am disappointed. The people of Wisconsin deserve better."
But there was some good, the report brags. The Department of Natural Resources, the National Guard, Dane and Rock Counties are praised for assisting the State Patrol throughout the night. Food and other supplies were brought to stranded motorists while county crews worked to pull semis out of the mess. But the main problem was communication.
"It's clear that the State Patrol's leadership that afternoon was slow and ineffective that recognizing the situation had turned from a traffic problem out on the interstate to a public safety crisis," says Governor Jim Doyle. "The failure here was not understanding that a crisis was building and building and building."
The report outlines several issues and possible solutions.
Problem #1: Deciding on who has jurisdiction in the area.
Solution: The state needs to clarify who is responsible for what area of the highway.
Problem #2: Situational awareness.
Solution: The report suggests that radio traffic and e-mails in the State Patrol offices be monitored.
Problem #3: Relaying information to stranded motorists.
Solution: The report states emergency response teams need to purchase technology that would help them relay information to the public better.
But despite the criticism of their response, the Wisconsin State Patrol is looking towards the future.
"We embrace those criticisms and we look forward to making improvements to make sure again that this incident does not happen again," says Collins.
Updated Thursday --- February 21, 2008 -- 5:30pm
Interstate Report Positives
The massive interstate back-up earlier this month was an event many would like to forget, but there were some bright spots.
"Some agencies performed very well," said Brigadier General Don Dunbar at a press conference Thursday morning.
And the first one the report mentions is Dane County.
Said Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, "I am grateful that the state report acknowledged the assistance of Dane County and we tried hard to be of assistance to them."
At 4:00 that day Dane County officials were alerted to the problem. Not only did they assist the State Patrol but they also looked after the general welfare of those stranded.
"We train we try to learn from every situation," added Falk. "We will learn from this one of course, but that is how you keep getting better."
The DNR was also recognized for its efforts. Wardens used their snowmobiles to deliver food, water, and blankets to the motorists.
"Being an administrator and not being in the field it was a proud moment for me to see our wardens lined up getting ready to go out on the interstate with the snow mobiles with their red and blue lights on," said Warden Karl Brooks.
And the effort of the community as a whole could not be left out. The day after the storm we introduced you to a man who spent hours that day walking up and down the interstate giving stranded motorists hot soup, coffee, water, bread, cookies, blankets and even gas.
"I just did it out of the spur of the moment," said John Kaczmerek. "I didn't want to see anyone get hurt or something to happen to them."
Stated Brigadier General Dunbar, "It would be a great injustice if I did not say emphatically and for the record that our front line responders, the state troopers, sheriff's deputies, police departments, fire departments, EMS crews, snow plow drivers, tow truck operators, sand and salt crews, DNR Wardens and national guard soldiers all performed magnificently."
Brooks also said that as far as he knows they has never deployed a team of snowmobiles on the interstate. And he said they really didn't have to choice. Given the conditions, they had no other way to get to the stranded motorists.
Updated Thursday --- February 21, 2008 -- 4:20pm
Wisconsin governor apologizes to stranded motorists for poor response
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Jim Doyle has apologized for the state's poor response to an interstate traffic backup that left thousands of motorists stranded for hours.
Doyle says many of the people would not have been stranded if authorities had recognized the scope of the problem earlier on Feb. 6th.
He says there were significant failures and mistakes made at the highest levels of the State Patrol and other agencies.
The governor says Interstate 39-90 could have been closed, the state should have warned drivers about the backup earlier and a state of emergency should have been declared hours before it was.
Doyle spoke after the head of the Wisconsin National Guard released a report that documented the missteps.
Updated Thursday --- February 21, 2008 --- 1:30pm
Governor Doyle asked officials to develop a report on the state and local emergency response to motorists stranded by the February 6th snowstorm on Interstate 39/90 between Madison and Janesville.
Report blasts State Patrol for slow response to Wisconsin traffic jam
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A report released Thursday says the State Patrol's response to the traffic backup that left more than 2,000 motorists stranded on an interstate near Madison was slow and ineffective.
A report by National Guard Brigadier General Donald Dunbar says the State Patrol was slow to recognize an emergency existed February 6th, which meant it missed chances to keep the backup from growing.
Governor Doyle asked Dunbar to investigate the emergency response to the backup that left motorists stranded overnight on Interstate 39-90. The backup started when semitrailers were unable to get up a hill because of the storm that dumped more than a foot of snow on southern Wisconsin.
Dunbar's 170-page report catalogs missteps by numerous state agencies, but saves its harshest criticism for the patrol, which was the lead responder.
The report says the State Patrol did not view the backup as significant because there was no physical crash and its incident commander was slow to respond.
A press conference is scheduled for TODAY at 11:00am to discuss the Interstate back-up and snowstorm on February 6th.
The report recounts the storm response in a detailed timeline, and also addresses three specific issues:
*** Coordination and communication among multiple agencies and
jurisdictions in responding to the situation
*** Accurate and timely assessment of the severity of the situation
*** Effective and timely communication of the situation to the public
Listen to the 911 Tapes
POSTED: Monday, February 11, 2008 -- 5:20pm
Both lanes of the Interstate near Stoughton prove dangerous, but what's to blame?
This isn't the first time there have been problems. That's according to the director of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's Bureau of Highway Operations. Dave Vieth wouldn't go on camera, Monday, but says I-39/90 near Stoughton is prone to poor road conditions.
The DOT is reviewing the terrain to see if physical changes are needed, or if additional preventive measures are necessary.
Semis, in particular, are having trouble making it up a gradual incline in snow and ice.
"I know we have 18 wheels versus four, but still our weight is so different on our tractors and that," says Gordon Schneider, a truck driver from Alabama.
Authorities say stalled semis led to last Wednesday's massive backup. It stretched nearly 20 mile, stranding people for several hours.
"Like anything there are some truck drivers that can't handle it and some that can," says Kenneth Truman, from Medford, Wisconsin.
Truman hasn't had any trouble this winter, but has before. He says communication can prevent a bad situation from turning worse.
"Best thing you can do is listen to the radio and find out what's going on, or when there's a backup like that, the cops should be back at an exit where you can get around it," he says.
But, communication, or lack thereof, is also part the review requested by the governor.
Over the weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, more traffic delays and backups occurred near the Stoughton exit.
Monday, Governor Doyle said it appears law enforcement learned a lesson and was quick to relay information.
As it relates to our upcoming snowstorm, Vieth says crews will work the stretch of Interstate the same as they always have, by plowing and spreading salt. However, he says drivers need to consider the weather conditions and avoid travel when it becomes dangerous.
The governor is calling for the review to be complete by the end of the week.
Updated Friday --- February 8, 2008 --- 9:30pm
"If you analyze all of the excuses the State Patrol chairman made they're really far fetched. And for him to remain unaccountable is not acceptable," says driver, Rob Kovach.
Angry and frustrated motorists are dissatisfied with explanations as to why they were left stranded for hours on I-90 this past Wednesday. Now Governor Doyle has called for a review of the emergency response.
"It was clear to me that the gravity of the situation was not recognized for some period of time and one of my requests of General Dunbar is that we have a full report of how the information was coming in," says Governor Doyle.
Kelly Noel was stranded for 9 hours just near her exit. And after calling Wisconsin State Patrol several times she got no answers.
"I was thinking this is ridiculous that nobody knew anything. There was no information. Nobody came by to make sure people were okay. I mean I had food and water but not everybody did," says Noel.
Sharing the same frustrations was Robert Kovach. Although stopped for only 5 hours he planned his trip trying to avoid the blocked highway.
"I had my wife on the phone and I was having her check all the traffic reports and all the websites and listening to her say how badly this website was and this one wasn't updated. Just as she was getting frustrated with how little information she could find online about the problem I told her to nevermind I had found it."
The review of the emergency response will address communication between agencies, the timely assessment of the situation and the communication of it to the public in hopes that another situation like this could be prevented.
Updated Friday --- February 8, 2008 --- 6:30pm
Wis. governor says he's concerned by response to traffic backup
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Jim Doyle says he's concerned by the state's response to an interstate traffic backup that left thousands of motorists stranded in a snowstorm.
Doyle says authorities initially failed to understand the severity of the backup.
He says he didn't learn about the situation on Interstate 39-90 until about 7 p.m. on Wednesday night. By then, many motorists said they had been stranded for several hours.
Doyle says he wants to know how 911 calls from motorists were handled and who was responsible for assessing the problem.
He also says he also wants to know whether authorities could have given greater warnings for people to avoid the stretch of highway between Madison and Janesville.
Doyle says he expects a full report on the emergency response by the end of next week.
Updated Friday --- February 8, 2008 --- 12:15pm
Governor Doyle called for a review Thursday evening of the emergency response to Wednesday's backup on I-90.
More than 2,000 vehicles were stranded in snow drifts up to 4 feet high and many of them needed to be moved one by one.
Here is the Official Release from Governor Doyle's Office:
Governor Jim Doyle today called for a review of the emergency response to motorists stranded by a snowstorm Wednesday on Interstate 39-90 between Madison and Janesville.
“I am concerned about the motorists who were stranded by the storm and am directing Brigadier General Donald Dunbar to conduct a complete review of the emergency response,” Governor Doyle said today.
Some of the specific areas Governor Doyle would like this review to address are:
· Coordination and communication among multiple agencies and jurisdictions in responding to the situation
· Accurate and timely assessment of the severity of the situation
· Effective and timely communication of the situation to the public
Governor Doyle thanked and recognized the emergency personnel, the first responders, the State Patrol and members of the National Guard who worked very long and hard so that all the motorists stranded along almost 20 miles of Interstate emerged safely. But whenever there is situation of this magnitude, Governor Doyle said that a quick and thorough review of the response is in order.
Updated Thursday --- February 7, 2008 --- 6:10pm
Madison: The State Patrol says the incident began when several semitrailer trucks lost traction and got stuck on a small hill. That back-up caused a close to 20 mile back-up and motorists were stuck for more than 10 hours.
More than 2,000 vehicles were stranded in snow drifts up to 4 feet high and many of them needed to be moved one by one.
"The conditions in that area were absolutely the most challenging I've ever seen in 28 years of law enforcement," says David Collins, Superintendent of the Wisconsin State Patrol.
The problem started early Wednesday afternoon at mile marker 157 near Stoughton. In the middle of one of the worst snow storms in decades, a few semis got stuck going up an incline in the westbound lanes of I-90.
Traffic came to a halt, but the State Patrol didn't realize it right away. "The reports didn't come in initially as any type of crashes," says Collins.
It took hours for snowplows and wreckers to reach the bottleneck, and they had to move each semi individually. "Wrecker operators needed to work not only in front of the vehicles but behind the vehicles, once we had plows in there to get the major snow pushed back, the roads were still slippery, to put down some time of a salt and sand mixture," says Collins.
By 8 pm the National Guard was mobilizing, and at 10:15 the Governor declared a State of Emergency.
Soldiers used snowmobiles and ATV's to deliver water, blankets and food to stranded motorists.
Collins says there were no medical emergencies, but it took hours to get traffic moving. "We had to knock on those doors of dozens if not hundreds of those trucks to tell them there's nobody in front of you it's time to move."
Many motorists asked why the interstate wasn't closed. Collins says for one, you can't just close an interstate with 100's of ramps, and the side roads were in worse condition than the interstate. "There was not a safe route where I felt we could bring any of this traffic off to, to get them onto their destinations without creating more problems and potential serious problems."
The State Patrol, National Guard and Emergency Management will conduct what's called an after-action report to see what they would do differently. The one thing Collins says they will look at is getting more accurate information to the media and the public earlier in the day.
Updated Thursday --- February 7, 2008 -- 3:15pm
The State Patrol released figures on the number of motorists stranded in the I-90 backup.
State Patrol Numbers from the National Guard Helicopter Counts:
Stranded westbound from milemarker 60 to milemarker 77:
--- 663 CARS
--- 689 SEMIS
Westbound Total: 1,352
Stranded Eastbound from milemarker 140 to milemarker 160:
--- 134 CARS
--- 566 SEMIS
Eastbound Total: 701
Grand TOTAL of Motorists Stranded: 2,053
Updated Thursday --- February 7, 2008 -- 12:25pm
State Patrol responds to criticism from stranded motorists
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The head of the Wisconsin State Patrol says he sees room for improvement in the agency's response to a traffic backup that left more than 2,000 motorists stranded overnight.
Many motorists complained they did not receive offers of help from authorities for hours after they became stuck in snowy conditions on Interstate 39-90 in Dane and Rock counties.
Motorists also complained they received little official information about what was going on.
State Patrol Supt. David Collins says he will look for ways to improve how authorities communicated the situation to the public. He also says the State Patrol did not learn about the backup until about 4 p.m. Wednesday. Some motorists have said they were stuck as long as three hours earlier.
Updated Thursday --- February 7, 2008 -- 11:20am
Traffic is finally moving again on the Interstate in both Dane and Rock counties.
More than 900 drivers were stranded on 1-90. Some driver were stranded for more than 10 hours during Wednesday's powerful winter storm.
Governor Doyle, around 10:30 Wednesday night, declared a state of emergency which mobilized national guard troops to get out and help .
A press conference was held Wednesday morning at the State Emergency Operations Center.
Authorities revealed that up to 2,000 motorists were stranded on Wednesday.
Stay tuned for further details.
Posted Thursday --- February 7, 2008 --- 9:55am
Stranded motorists spend the night on the interstate
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Hundreds of stranded motorists spent the night on the interstate in Rock and Dane counties sleeping or trying to keep warm.
NBC-15 Reporter Evrod Cassimy was on his way to work from Rockford, Illinois and was among at least 800 vehicles that got stuck on I-90 Wednesday afternoon. For Cassimy, frustration gave way to panic when he began to wonder if anyone was coming to help. Cassimy says he called 911 three times and started his car in intervals to conserve gas and keep warm. He had his lunch in the back seat, but it was a frozen dinner.
Finally, about 11 hours later, Cassimy was able to inch along on the interstate and made it to work about midnight.
And Peter Freeman left his business in Janesville early Wednesday afternoon, headed for home in Stoughton, about 25 miles away. Freeman says traffic ground to a halt on the interstate. He sat in his minivan for hours, listening to the radio and watching a movie on his DVD player.
People in the car in front of him gave him a sandwich and soda.
As hours passed, Freeman says he started to grow frustrated at the lack of official information and help. He says responders on snowmobiles came by asking whether he was okay but said they didn't know what was going on or offer him food or blankets.
Finally traffic started moving about 11 p.m. And, to add to the misery, Freeman's minivan got stuck on a exit ramp near his home. He finally got home about 1:00 Thursday morning.
Update Posted Thursday, February 7, 2008 at 7:20 am:
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- As many as 800 vehicles remain stranded on the interstate in Dane and Rock County because of the powerful winter storm that dumped more than a foot of snow in the area.
National Guard troops on snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles are checking on the stranded motorists this morning.
Lieutenant Colonel Tim Donovan said today only minor medical conditions were reported.
Donovan went up in a National Guard helicopter this morning to get an aerial view of the situation.
He says there are hundreds of other vehicles that are slowly moving out of the backup on eastbound Interstate 90 south of Madison and westbound south of Janesville.
Donovan says troops are trying to wake up the stranded motorists to get them moving this morning.
The backup started when some semitrailer trucks lost traction and got stuck on a small hill. That caused a backup that stretched 19 miles.
Update Posted Thursday, 5:45am
***URGENT: Highway Patrol says ALL LANES OF THE INTERSTATE SHOULD BE AVOIDED BETWEEN MADISON AND THE ILLINOIS BORDER.
Official Announcement from Emergency Operations Center:
(MADISON) The Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center is recommending motorists avoid the use of Interstate Highways 39 and 90 south of Madison until traffic stoppages have been cleared and snow can be cleared.
The severe winter storm that dropped more than 12 inches of snow in southern Wisconsin caused significant delays in both directions of the two interstate highways in Rock and Dane counties.
A 4:00 a.m. helicopter flight over Dane and Rock counties found more than 800 vehicles—mostly tractors and semi trailers—were not moving along portions of the highways in Southern Dane County south of Madison and Northern Rock County from Janesville to the Dane County line. Where traffic was moving, it was moving very slowly on slippery, snow-covered driving lanes.
The Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center is working with the Wisconsin State Patrol, Department of Transportation, Department of Natural Resources and county officials to get traffic moving and restore the highways to good winter driving condition, but these efforts are expected to take several hours and will likely not be completed before this morning’s commute.
Emergency officials recommend motorists use alternate routes this morning to avoid the affected interstate highways while crews work to remove stuck and disabled vehicles and remove snow drifts.
Motorists should also allow plenty of time to reach their destinations
Update Posted Thursday, 4:45am
Wisconsin State Patrol Southwest Region-Deforest Post:
"WE ARE EXPERIENCING SIGNIFICANT PROBLEMS ON THE INTERSTATE SYSTEM FROM THE IL STATE LINE TO THE BADGER INTERCHANGE IN BOTH DIRECTIONS. TRAVEL ON THE INTERSTATE SHOULD BE AVOIDED IF AT ALL POSSIBLE. IF YOU MUST TRAVEL AN ALTERNATE ROUTE SHOULD BE CONSIDERED ALTHOUGH NO ALTERNATE ROUTES ARE BEING RECOMMENDED AT THIS TIME."
Updated Wednesday --- February 6, 2008 -- 10:15pm
Wisconsin governor calls out Guard to help stranded motorists
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Semitrailer trucks stuck on a Wisconsin freeway during a massive snowstorm left hundreds of motorists stranded in a traffic backup, and Governor Jim Doyle called a state of emergency to have National Guard troops help them.
State emergency management personnel said there were about 500 vehicles in the backup as of Wednesday night, hours after the problem developed on Interstate 90 south of Madison.
In a conference call, officials said snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles were used to check on the welfare of people in the stranded vehicles and also to bring them food or fuel as needed.
Lt. Col. Tim Donovan, spokesman for the Wisconsin National Guard, said 15 Humvees and two 5-ton trucks were being used to assist motorists with water and fuel, and two helicopters were being readied in case they would be needed for aerial searches or surveillance.
He said about 40 Guard soldiers were called in.
Updated Wednesday --- February 6, 2008 -- 9:30pm
About 1,000 motorists are stuck on the I-90 interstate between Madison and Janesville.
Our own Evrod Cassimy has been stranded on the Interstate since 11:30 Wednesday morning.
Evrod says traffic has started to move at around 9:30pm Wednesday night. He does stress the traffic is moving slowly.
Many of the motorists were stranded for almost 10 hours.
The Dane County Sheriff's Office says the Wisconsin National Guard has been activated to assist stranded motorists.
Posted Wednesday --- February 6, 2008 -- 7:30pm
The westbound lane of the interstate remains closed at this hour.
It's been at a standstill since 11:30 Wednesday morning.
The Dane County sheriff's department says the National Guard has been called in.
According to a 911 dispatcher, more than 1.000 vehicles are stranded -- stretching from Madison all the way to Dane county - Rock County border.
Lori Getter with Wisconsin Emergency Management is advising people to stay in their cars.
According to Emergency Management, 10 Fire Departments from Dane County are going car to car to find out who needs food and gas.
Lori Getter with Wisconsin Emergency Management is advising people to stay in their cars.
Authorities will be delivering blankets.
Several jack-knifed semis appear to be the cause of the back-up on Wednesday morning.
The back-up appears to be along Interstate 39 between the County Highway N Stoughton exit and Highway 51 North to Stoughton.
Our reporter on scene Evrod Cassimy has been stranded on the Interstate since 11:30am Wednesday morning. Cassimy called the 911 Center Wednesday night to get an update on when help would be arriving. The 911 dispatch center says up to 1,000 cars are stranded on the Interstate. The back-up stretches from Madison to the Rock County line.
Traffic in at least one direction finally began to move early Wednesday evening.
The State Patrol says they do not want to speculate on the number of motorists stranded at this time.
We have word from the county that crews have arrived at the incident. Reports from area scanners are indicating that authorities are using ATV's and snowmobiles to rescue the stranded motorists.