UPDATED 02/03/11 8:03 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — The scene of Lake Shore Drive as an auto graveyard will go down as one of the most enduring images of the Blizzard of 2011, and at last, the Drive is now back open.
As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, city crews spent the whole night towing the remaining abandoned cars that became stranded in the blizzard, then removing the snow with front-loaders and dump trucks.
Officials confirmed around 5:30 a.m. that Lake Shore Drive had reopened. Traffic in the northbound and southbound lanes was moving as of 5 a.m.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bernie Tafoya reports
Mayor’s chief of staff Raymond Orozco says motorists should be cautious when taking Lake Shore Drive, since snow plows will be out as the city continues to maintain and improve conditions on the road.
Lanes may be narrowed or reduced, Orozco said Thursday morning.
CBS 2’s Kris Habermehl saw an example of a narrowed lane over North Avenue.
The “gore,” a space demarcated by white lines that separates the traffic lanes from the entry ramp, has now become the entry ramp to the southbound Drive. The actual entry ramp is covered with plowed snow.
About 1,000 cars were stuck on Lake Shore Drive at the height of the blizzard. As late as 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, 24 hours afterward, 218 cars remained.
Initially, Lake Shore Drive was moving smoothly as the Tuesday evening rush began, but conditions began to deteriorate following several accidents. There were three accidents between Fullerton Parkway and Belmont Avenue 7:15 and 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, one of them involving a CTA bus. Shortly afterward, there were two more accidents in the northbound lanes just south of North Avenue.
The accidents caused cars and buses to back up, and as the snow piled up, vehicles became immobilized and off-ramps became impassable. Lake Shore Drive was closed at 7:58 p.m. Tuesday, and fire and police personnel worked to move as many cars as possible off the highway and remove people who could not get out on their own.
Ambulances and fire crews quickly responded, but were hampered by 60 to 70 mph winds and snow falling at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour, city officials said.
Several people were taken to St. Joseph Hospital after they were finally removed from their cars – not for a medical emergency, but to warm up with dry socks, blankets, slippers and towels.
After the debacle, city officials took heat for not closing Lake Shore Drive earlier. Mayor’s chief of staff Raymond Orozco explained that before the accidents began piling up, Lake Shore Drive was running reasonably well.
“At the end of the day, the Lake Shore Drive decision was judgment call,” Orozco said Wednesday, “specifically, my judgment call.”
Orozco said in 31 years with the city – mostly with the Fire Department – he had never seen a comparable situation on Lake Shore Drive. But his tone was contrite during several news conferences.
“We know that hundreds do people were very inconvenienced, and we’re sorry about that,” Orozco said.
Owners of vehicles towed off of Lake Shore Drive can go to www.cityofchicago.org and click on “Alerts” at near the top of the page to access a list showing where more than 500 of those vehicles were taken. Several lakefront parking lots and one lot near North Avenue and Wells Street are holding cars as of Thursday morning, and there is no charge to retrieve a vehicle, the website said.