UNBLIZZARD 2015: Governor’s Closure of All Area Roads Unique, Unprecedented

BY ADAM LUCENTE

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Even side roads were cleared by early Tuesday afternoon

1 “We are looking at an impending snowstorm. Mother Nature has decided once again to come visit us in an extreme way.”-Governor Andrew Cuomo in a press conference on January 26, 2015.

Rockland residents spent Monday preparing for a blizzard, a blizzard that never came. According to the governor’s actions and the predictions of meteorologists, it seemed that a big storm was coming our way. But Rocklanders awoke to find but a few inches of fluff on the ground.

Governor Cuomo went all out in preparing the state for the storm, going so far as to ban driving in several downstate counties, in addition to declaring a state of emergency and halting various other forms of public transportation in the Hudson Valley Monday night. While the state of emergency declaration and stoppage of public transportation are within the realm of normality, the governor’s ban of driving on all roads was a strange measure without much precedent.

In storms past, Governor Cuomo did not go so far as to close all roads in any given area, although he did take other precautions, closing portions of the New York State Thruway on several locations. In the November 13-21 North American winter storm in the Buffalo area, Cuomo closed several highways, including parts of the New York State Thruway. In another major storm of his governorship, Hurricane Sandy, many bridges and tunnels were closed, but few roads were.

The aforementioned actions are par for the course in weather emergencies, but all-out driving bands are not. The closures in the 2014 storm did not include all roads, nor did the actions taken by NYS authorities during Hurricane Sandy. Yet people in Rockland and elsewhere in the state were barred from using their cars from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m from Monday to Tuesday on any roads, including town, village and county.

Of course, the governor thought the storm would be worse than it was, but considering the 2014 Buffalo blizzard witnessed up to seven feet of snow and he did not ban all driving then, why did he choose to do so this time around? Some say he did so in reaction to the calamity caused by that storm.

The move is not only unprecedented when comparing it to Cuomo’s past actions in similar storms; it is partly unique to the region. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s response to the blizzard, for example, did not include a driving ban. On the contrary, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy did ban driving on local roads, but in only two counties, not 13 as Cuomo did.

Governor Cuomo took to the press Tuesday to defend his actions in light of the not-so-bad storm. Unsurprisingly, the governor reportedly told CNN “better safe than sorry,” and “Hindsight is 20/20. You act on the information you have at the time.”

The driving ban naturally raises concerns over liberty and government power, as millions of people were essentially barred from leaving their homes over a dusting of snow. Technically, if you drove to the gas station at 6:55 a.m. Tuesday with almost no snow on the roads, you would have been committing a misdemeanor punishable by a $300 fine.

It further raises concerns over whether such drastic measures are effective, the safety they provide withstanding. Many delivery workers, for example, missed out on a night’s worth of work due to the driving ban. Post offices were shut down Tuesday and the Rockland County Times office still had not received its regular mail as of Wednesday night.

Perhaps a tale of things to come, the road closures in 2014 resulted in gas and food shortages in Buffalo area gas stations and grocery stores, respectively. It won’t take much for Rockland’s inhabitants to recover from the blizzard that wasn’t. But questions remain over the benefits of the governor’s driving ban and whether it has created a precedent for future sweeping uses of executive power.