New Jersey Department of Transportation official joins Mayor Ras Baraka to provide update on snow removal effort

neighborhoods cardThis morning, Mayor Ras Baraka held another daily briefing about Newark snow removal efforts, this time joined by Assistant Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Andrew Tunnard.

Baraka opened by thanking Newarkers “for their patience,” and acknowledging residents who assisted with the dig-out.

“Our residents have been a great strength to us during this storm, digging out their neighbors, looking in on the elderly, disabled, calling the OEM [Office of Emergency Management], making sure that we responded to their concerns, and even providing their own plows,” he said.

As for where the operation stands now, Baraka said the city had made “significant process,” but added: “We know there’s more that needs be done.” As the city undertakes those efforts, he said, residents should moderate their expectations about what the result would look like. “’Safe passageways’ does not mean the streets will look like they did in July,” he said. “But there will be a safe way in and out [of city streets] for citizens and emergency vehicles.”

Baraka said city officials have been tuned into residents’ calls, emails, and social media feedback about the city’s response. “People have a right to be angry,” he said, adding that he understood the inconveniences that come with being trapped on snow-logged streets, particularly in terms of some residents’ inability to get to work.

Baraka said the city had responded to, and will continue to prioritize, emergency situations, including transporting dialysis patients and elders requiring assistance to care facilities, and underscored that the city had not experienced any snow-related fatalities to date due to the storm or its aftermath.

Between them, Baraka and Tunnard provided updates on progress-to-date and their go-forward plan since the Department of Transportation joined the removal effort last night. Highlights:

  • Baraka said that since yesterday evening, more than 600 complaints for snow clearing had been resolved (more than one complaint can be resolved by clearing a single block)
  • Baraka said the city had removed 148 of 152 vehicles that have been disabled and blocking public passageways, emergency vehicles, and snow plows
  • Two hours after receiving the call for assistance from Essex County yesterday, Tunnard said, the state and city met at OEM on Clinton Avenue to coordinate state workers to assist with snow removal. Within six hours of the call, he said, the first state workers were on the ground and beginning to assist with snow removal
  • As of 10 a.m. this morning, said Tunnard, there were five snow removal teams dispersed throughout the city.
  • Department of Transportation resources by the numbers, according to Tunnard: 54 snow trucks, 17 front-end loaders, 27 skid steers (often referred to as “bobcats” in reference to a popular manufacturer of the machines), and 89 personnel (including operators and managers) working 12-hour shifts
  • Results as of 10 a.m. by the numbers, according to Tunnard: 213 truckloads of snow removed from an estimated 20 to 25 streets. That equates to about 1,704 tons, said Tunnard.

Baraka said one of the issues complicating snow removal was the layout of city streets in some neighborhoods. “I think there’s a lot of side streets in the city that we’re trying to hit,” he said, that aren’t off main roads and can be tough for some snow equipment to get to. Addressing the city holistically requires “putting together a strategy that involves everybody” – meaning several layers of vendors and response teams with adequate equipment for addressing the various configurations of city streets.

Baraka said there would be a focus on some of the “lower West Ward and Central Ward sites that have those small streets.” He denied that any particular ward of the city had been neglected wholesale.

The mayor also reiterated his point from previous briefings that abandoned cars impeded the initial removal operation, saying the emergency vehicles that tried to remove those cars sometimes got stuck themselves, turning the snow removal operation into a partial “rescue mission” for cars and emergency vehicles.

As for schools, Baraka said the decision about whether to open tomorrow is the superintendent’s call. Complicating school openings is the fact that streets to and from school sites, safe passageways for students who walk, and parking lots where teachers and administrators park must all be addressed.

Baraka said Newark was not an “anomaly” in its struggles with clearing snow for residents, citing Washington, D.C., Baltimore and, more locally, Edison, North Plainfield, and Somerset, as places that have also had a tough time with the task after the historic blizzard.

As for the timing of snow removal, the mayor declined to cite an exact timeline. “We assess this every single day,” he responded to a question about how long it would take before all streets are cleared. “We are a lot better off today than we were yesterday.”

Watch the full press conference below:

This morning’s map of unplowed streets, based on reader comments:

The city asked residents who need their streets clear to call the Office of Emergency Management at (973) 877-9260. BrickCityLive.com has success getting through to the line this morning, although we weren’t given an estimated time of arrival for a plow. Some of our readers have had success getting through and getting plowed; others have gotten through but not yet been plowed hours later; and still others have had a hard time getting an OEM staff member on the phone.

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