How the ‘December Debacle’ led to big changes at RIDOT

Local News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — On Dec. 13, 2007, an ill-timed winter storm caused vehicles to become stranded for hours on area roads and highways, including school buses full of children who had been dismissed early.

Many people didn’t get home until late at night, despite their best efforts to beat the weather.

Ten years after the so-called “December Debacle,” the R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT) says it learned a lot from that storm and has since taken steps to improve how it prepares for and deals with winter.

“The lessons that have been learned is creating a maintenance workforce and the related equipment necessary to be able to fight those kinds of situations and those kinds of snow storms, but more importantly the planning that goes into it,” RIDOT Director Peter Alviti said Wednesday.

Alviti said RIDOT had plans in place well ahead of this year’s snow season. He also said the agency has new forecasting technology and a new management structure that allows it to adapt more quickly to changing weather.

On Tuesday, RIDOT showed off its 15 new trucks and said it’s adding more positions to its staff. It all helps to avoid another debacle, according to Alviti.

“I’m not saying we won’t have some minor issues or problems we encounter,” he said, “but I think we’re much better equipped and much better prepared now than we were even two years ago.”

In a statement Wednesday, Providence Public Schools spokesperson Laura Hart said the district also made changes in the wake of the December Debacle, such as refraining from using early dismissals when possible.

“The biggest change that has occurred in the aftermath of the December 2007 blizzard is improved coordination among all city departments, including the school district and the Providence Emergency Management Agency.

“Well in advance of any significant storm’s arrival, city agencies and departments hold conference calls to review detailed, Providence-specific weather forecasts. These include information on potential weather conditions for walkers and children waiting at bus stops. We provide our input during these calls, and the mayor uses this feedback to inform his decision.

“We also build into our school schedule five potential snow days, so that we have more leeway to cancel school due to inclement weather conditions.

“If possible, we avoid early release scenarios. This is what occurred during the December 2007 blizzard. Once students were released early, parents left work early to make it home to greet their kids. The additional, unexpected traffic on the roadways made real-time snow removal extremely difficult and caused historic traffic jams.”

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