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Report To Criticize City’s Response To Blizzard On Lake Shore Drive

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Remember this scene? Drivers became stranded on Lake Shore Drive during the Blizzard of 2011. (CBS)

Remember this scene? Drivers became stranded on Lake Shore Drive during the Blizzard of 2011. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – City officials are learning more about the massive winter storm in February that locked up Lake Shore Drive and trapped hundreds of drivers.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel doesn’t want that kind of snarl happening again. The blizzard report he has requested is expected to be delivered to him this week.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine has a sneak peek and says it will not make the new mayor happy.

It was a ferocious storm, the worst of it hitting at the height of rush hour on Jan. 31. Visibility on Lake Shore drive down to nothing, cars basically crawling, until the articulated bus crash north of Fullerton Avenue brought everything to a sliding full stop. 

Barry Montgomery sat in his car for nine hours.

“I had the radio on the entire time. Never did I get a report from any one, any source that was telling me why I couldn’t move my car,” the attorney said.

It wasn’t until daylight, Feb. 1, when it became apparent what had happened.

City officials may not have seen it either, because their vaunted Office of Emergency Management & Communications camera grid didn’t cover Lake Shore Drive north of North Avenue. It does now. But the cameras CBS 2 saw there this week weren’t there in February.

“We constantly install cameras on a daily basis. I could not correctly tell you which ones have been added to Lake Shore Drive right now,” OEMC Executive Director Jose Santiago said Monday.  

Santiago was in charge of the much-heralded, state-of-the-art communications center, which didn’t communicate very well that night.

CBS 2 has learned that critical posts within the command center were empty and requests for guidance from other agencies went unanswered.

The report will recommend that large articulated buses like the one that crashed be pulled off Lake Shore Drive more quickly. Tow trucks should be positioned at exits to clear crashes, the report will also advise.

And the report will recommend that traffic turnarounds be created at intervals down the center of Lake Shore drive to prevent cars from being blocked.

“I can’t fault them for not shutting down Lake Shore Drive because that’s 20/20 hindsight,” Montgomery, the stranded motorist, said. “My criticism came from the fact that there people out there, sitting there like I was, for nine hours (who) had no idea what was going on.” 

Most agree Chicago reacted well to one of the worst blizzards of all-time. But the potential for tragedy among the hundreds of helpless and stranded on the Drive that night was very real. Several sources familiar with the investigation say that could have been avoided.

Contributing: CBS 2 Political Editor Ed Marshall

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