Truck driver Leamon Tatum parked his rig in the long row of tractor trailers idling away the time at a rest stop. “These guys should get off the road. It’s only going to get worse,” he said. They’re riding out the storm at the rest stop instead of riding the interstates, after Gov. Phil Murphy not only declared a state of emergency, but also joined New York and Pennsylvania in ordering a commercial vehicle ban on some major interstates. In New Jersey, the ban is on Routes 78, 80, 280 and 287. The reaction of truckers is mixed. “I think they put it out a little early. I think they could’ve waited until you had a foot of snow down and the winds were high,” said Al Minaya, a truck driver from Hazlet. “Well, it’s for safety’s sake, and I’m all for that. And I’d rather be stopped here, than on the side of the road,” said truck driver Bob Allen. “…and too many of these guys not sitting here, trying to get somewhere, they’re the ones you have to watch out for.” On Route 78, state troopers pulled over big rig drivers who chose to ignore the ban, which applies to tractor trailers; empty, straight CDL-weighted trucks; passenger vehicles pulling trailers; recreational vehicles and motorcycles.
Murphy’s decision comes after major traffic accidents involving tractor trailers shut down sections of Route 78, 280 and 287 during the March 7 nor’easter. “Whether or not a driver receives a motor vehicle summons is at the discretion of a trooper. The travel ban has reduced the number of commercial vehicles on the road, and the less vehicles we have on the road, the safer and easier it is for our hardworking plow crews,” said New Jersey State Police Sgt. First Class Jeff Flynn. The last time snow convinced New Jersey officials to ban commercial vehicles on interstates was three years ago. It’s a tough call because parking big rigs means crucial cargo gets delayed. The Turnpike stayed open, with speed limits restricted to 45 miles per hour. Salt trucks kept it mostly clear through midafternoon. The state has mobilized its full complement of salters and plows, and towns like Perth Amboy loaded up, too. The secret to keeping streets clear of snow, according to one 37-year veteran salt truck driver is mixing in calcium chloride along with the salt. It’s a magic brew. “We went out today with it on, like five hours, it was perfect. Now it’s starting to stick again. So we got to go out like every five hours, unless it goes really heavy,” said John Dlabik.
That’s the forecast: really heavy snow. The governor has asked people to avoid driving, if they can. The commercial vehicle ban will probably remain in effect throughout the storm, at least, according to state police. For Allen, it means a night spent catnapping in his rig at a Turnpike rest stop. “I’m about three hours from my home up in the Poconos. Unfortunately, that’s all 80, 380,” said Allen. After getting stuck for seven hours along Route 84 in New York a couple of weeks ago, he doesn’t mind the wait.