Many drivers around B.C.’s Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley described Tuesday’s commute home as a nightmare.
Drivers reported being stuck on roads and bridges for hours – with some people taking eight, nine or even 12 hours to get home.
Surrey resident Julie King works in New Westminster. She told Global News she left the office at 5 p.m. on Tuesday as snow was falling.
She first tried to take the Pattullo Bridge but traffic was almost at a standstill so she decided to take the Port Mann Bridge instead.
“Which ended up being a mistake because I got down Brunette and got stuck,” King said. “I felt claustrophobic because I couldn’t go anywhere, nothing to do, you were just trapped, essentially.”
At about 9 p.m. she made it back to 8th Avenue and McBride Boulevard to attempt to cross the Pattullo Bridge again.
She got some gas and food and then rejoined the line for the bridge.
“I turned on to McBride heading towards the bridge and then basically sat there for at least three hours before there was any more movement,” King said. “I was just in park. I got out of the car to stretch my legs, talked to a couple of other commuters around me, we were commiserating about our mutual disaster we were in and it was a nightmare.”
She said they finally started moving, going about five km/h max across the bridge.
“I got across the bridge and the King George Highway was just a nightmare. There were cars all along the right-hand side, just abandoned… There was a TransLink bus just abandoned on the side.”
King said she arrived home around 2:30 a.m. – roughly nine hours later.
“I have never experienced anything like this in my life. I had to be on the phone with my brother and my mom, hands-free, just to stop myself from having a panic attack. I had no food in my car, I made sure I used the washroom at 9 o’clock at McDonald’s.”
Surrey resident Chandni Rakkar was not stuck in the chaos herself but said her uncle and brother took hours to get home.
Her brother finally arrived at around 11 p.m. but her uncle didn’t get home home until around 4 a.m.
“I’ve never seen it like this,” she said.
“What if your gas is running low? What if you’re not a person that’s healthy?
“It just doesn’t make sense how it got so crazy and how much havoc there was on the roads yesterday.”
The province said it had 30 pieces of equipment working on the Lower Mainland roads during the evening but crews faced some challenges.
“A big piece of what we’re looking at is, if folks don’t need to be out on the road then I think that’s a key piece as well,” Janelle Staite, deputy director of South Coast Region with the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said.
“What we found yesterday was around 1 or 2 o’clock when people saw the snow starting to arrive, they actually started leaving their work or changing their routine a little bit. So the congestion period that we typically see around 4:30, started at 2 p.m. and we weren’t able to clear that congestion until the wee hours of the morning, which did contribute to some very extraordinary commutes for folks.”
News Talk 980 CKNW radio host Jas Johal left downtown Vancouver at 8 p.m. Tuesday and arrived home at 4 a.m.
He said his commute at that time would normally take about 45 minutes.
“I still don’t know exactly what the problem was,” he said. “It looked like there was some kind of accident around the Steveston Overpass by the tunnel heading southbound on Highway 99.”
Johal said it’s clear the province and the cities need to spend more money to make the roads, bridges and transit systems more robust.
“We had a little bit of snow in a first-world country, in a G7 country, and we cannot handle it. What does that tell you when it comes to a big earthquake hitting the city?”
Road maintenance contractors said conditions shifted unexpectedly and made it tough for crews to clear the hazards.
“We had cars spun out, trucks spun out, buses spun out and once that started happening, it just created gridlock,” Darren Ell with Mainroad Contracting told Global News. “Really hard for our trucks to get out.”
The roads are now mostly clear, but drivers are being warned about icy conditions as the temperatures drop.
The next significant weather event is expected on Friday.
“So our contractors are now looking at last night’s event to see if there’s anything they can do differently for Friday’s event,” Staite said.