Turnpike was a ‘cattle chute’


PHILADELPHIA — A section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Pittsburgh where hundreds of vehicles were stranded during the massive winter storm reopened in both directions Sunday, officials said.

In this photo provided by Michael Watkins, Temple University women's gymnastics team bus is shown at a standstill on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Bedford on Saturday. The Duquesne men's basketball team and Temple University's women's gymnastics team are stuck on the Turnpike because of treacherous weather conditions. A mammoth winter storm crawled up the U.S. East Coast on Saturday, making roads impassable, shutting down mass transit and bringing Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City to a standstill.

Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said eastbound lanes at the scene in Somerset County reopened Sunday afternoon and westbound lanes reopened shortly before 5 p.m. Sunday.

More than 500 cars, trucks and buses — one carrying the Duquesne University men’s basketball team and another the Temple University women’s gymnastics squad — got stuck Friday night as officials said the area received more than 35 inches of snow during the storm.

State officials said the mileslong backup occurred when westbound tractor-trailers were unable to climb through the mountains toward the Allegheny tunnels. Emergency crews were unable to get heavy equipment to the scene to clear the disabled trucks due to the backlog and the increasingly poor conditions, officials said.

Officials said Sunday that 216 people stayed in a Bedford County shelter and 200 more stayed in local hotels.

Turnpike chief executive officer Mark Compton vowed “an extensive after-action review” on the situation and response.

Compton cited the mountainous terrain and a construction zone that created what officials call a “cattle chute” that “on a good day” is very narrow.

“We’re going to take a hard look at how these tractor-trailers got together, what was the word on if they should or shouldn’t have been there and the timing of that message, and if it’s in a construction zone should they have only been in one lane versus the two lanes because the lane on the left side is wider,” he said.

Wolf said the magnitude and speed of the storm came as surprises. However, officials said it caused fewer power outages than expected. About 689 customers remained without power Sunday morning.

Turnpike commission chairman Sean Logan released a statement Sunday afternoon offering “sincere apologies” to all stranded travelers.

“We are all very relieved that nobody was seriously injured, and we are all pleased that most of the stranded travelers are now home or well on their way,” he said.

The governor and other officials credited the work of emergency responders under adverse condition for helping to keep people safe during the ordeal.

“Despite the historic and daunting conditions of the storm, there were no fatalities or major injuries as a result of the backlog due to the response of local and state responders who worked tirelessly to check on vehicles and keep drivers safe,” the governor’s office said in a statement.