City, University reopen after storm

The weekend’s snowstorm brought the heaviest snowfall New Haven has seen since the blizzard of 1978.
The weekend’s snowstorm brought the heaviest snowfall New Haven has seen since the blizzard of 1978. Photo by Brianne Bowen.

After two days of closures following a record-breaking snowfall that pounded New Haven over the weekend, University and most city services resume today amid ongoing cleanup efforts.

As the University returns to full operations, City Hall, the New Haven Public Library and Gateway Community College reopened Wednesday morning with emergency crews still working to clear streets and widen traffic lanes. New Haven Public Schools and city senior centers, however, will remain closed at least all day Wednesday, and city refuse collection efforts have been canceled for the entire week.

“The city reopens tomorrow almost in full,” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. told the News Tuesday evening. “I feel pretty good about the state of cleanup and clearing efforts, and we’ll be all set for businesses to start back up.”

On campus, conditions are “getting back to normal,” University Vice President Linda Lorimer said. On Tuesday, she sent an email to the Yale community announcing that campus-wide activities would resume Wednesday following two consecutive snow days, during which only staff members performing essential services were asked to report to work. It was the University’s first closing due to snow since 1978.

After canceling classes Monday due to hazardous travel conditions in New Haven and surrounding towns, University officials decided on a second day of closures at DeStefano’s request, asking nonessential staff members to stay home to prevent traffic congestion and to allow city cleanup efforts to continue uninterrupted.

Yale Director of Emergency Management Maria Bouffard said Tuesday evening that the University was ready to reopen.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” she said. “Our teams are focusing on the Yale campus specifically, and we’ve been working around the clock to clear major walkways and make sure buildings are secure in the aftermath of the storm.”

Despite successful cleanup efforts, parking remains a challenge, Bouffard said, and Deputy Secretary for the University Martha Highsmith estimated that only 75 to 80 percent of Yale parking areas are accessible. University officials have asked faculty and staff to carpool to work if possible. Those commuting to work will also have the option of parking on West Campus and taking a shuttle to more central locations.

Bouffard cautioned students walking to class to be aware of falling ice and black ice, which has resulted from puddles freezing after Monday’s rainfall.

Meanwhile, city cleanup efforts will continue in full force. The New Haven Department of Public Works operated 90 snow-clearing vehicles through the night Tuesday and into the day Wednesday, DeStefano said. From Friday evening, when the blizzard initially struck, to Wednesday midday, emergency crews focused on opening streets to ensure basic access for emergency vehicles. Now, as major arterial roads like Whalley, Grand and Whitney Avenues are clear, the city will shift focus to widening those clearings, allowing for multiple lanes to accommodate traffic.

“We first had to make sure there was at least one lane open everywhere — even if that meant you were blocked if someone was coming at you from the opposite direction,” DeStefano said. “Wednesday will be a transition day from opening to widening.”

City Chief Administrative Officer and Director of Emergency Management Robert Smuts ’01 said that despite heroic cleanup efforts, commuting to work Wednesday would be “hellish.” Still, he said he was confident the downtown area would be passable.

To enable continued snow removal, the city will institute a parking ban on the odd-numbered sides of streets starting 6 p.m. on Wednesday. DeStefano said continued cleanup efforts will depend on cooperation from New Haven residents, adding that “finding a place to put your car in three feet of snow is no picnic.”

According to DeStefano and Lorimer, cleanup efforts have involved extensive town-gown collaboration, and Lorimer said she received updates on critical areas — such as Trumbull, Orange and Lock Streets — from group phone calls. DeStefano said the University has been working with the city in identifying off-street parking options and that the Yale Police Department is helping to enforce nine traffic posts established in the downtown area.

Additional snowfall may throw a wrench into the city’s cleanup plans. One to three inches of snow are projected to fall Wednesday evening into Thursday morning.

Over the weekend, 34 inches of snow fell in less than 24 hours, making the blizzard the worst to hit New Haven since 1871.

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