Governor Patrick orders statewide travel ban beginning at 4 pm

Edgartown-West Tisbury Road was a slushy ride Friday afternoon.
Photo by Ralph Stewart

Edgartown-West Tisbury Road was a slushy ride Friday afternoon.

With a wind-whipped snow storm expected to drop as much as three feet in some areas of Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick has banned vehicle travel on all roads starting at 4 p.m. Friday.

Patrick said the blizzard is “a profoundly different kind of storm than we have dealt with” and the projected snowfall rate of two to three inches per hour will “make safe travel nearly impossible.”

“I have now signed an executive order banning vehicle traffic effective at 4 o’clock today,” Patrick said from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency bunker in Framingham. “There are a number of exemptions to that for emergency workers and the like.”

MEMA Director Kurt Schwartz said that a similar executive order banning vehicular travel went into effect after the “blizzard of ’78″ and said he is unaware of any similar ban since then.

The order is “outright ban on all roads” with no set time for when it will be lifted. There are exceptions for public utility and health care workers as well as delivery trucks and news media. Schwartz said that the maximum penalty for people who violate the ban is one year imprisonment.

Police officials in several Island towns said they have no plans to ticket or pull drivers over for violating the ban. At 3 pm, Friday roads were mostly wet or covered with a thin layer of slush. Police appealed to business owners and drivers to use common sense if conditions worsen.

There are currently 1,000 National Guard troops, and Patrick said nearly 5,000 would be in place over the course of the weekend. The Department of Transportation had 1,600 pieces of equipment on the roads around noon on Friday, and planned to bring that number up to 4,000 as the storm intensifies.

The MBTA will send its last train out at 3:30 p.m., and turnpike tolls will be opened starting at 2 p.m., Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said. A total of 2,000 utility teams are in place, though work repairing downed wires will not begin until the storm is over, according to Patrick and Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard Sullivan.

“Prepare for the possibility of being shut in and at home for the next 24 or 48 hours,” Patrick advised. He said drifts could grow to five feet and while saying he understood the desire for some exploring once the storm subsided, he asked people do so safely. “There are hazards under this winter wonderland,” he said.

Patrick advised people with generators to make sure to vent them, said people with wells should fill their bathtubs with water, and the cooling devices on refrigerators should be turned up.

I, Deval L. Patrick, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, pursuant to the power provided by Chapter 639 of the Acts of 1950 do hereby issue the following order:

There shall be a ban on motor vehicle travel beginning at 4pm today and continuing until further notice. This travel ban shall not apply to the following: Public safety vehicles and public safety workers, including contract personnel; public works vehicles and public works workers, including contract personnel; government officials conducting official business; utility company vehicles and utility workers; healthcare workers who must travel to and from work in order to provide essential health services; news media; travel necessary to maintain and deliver critical private sector services such as energy, fuel supplies and delivery, financial systems and the delivery of critical commodities; travel to support business operations that provide critical services to the public, including gasoline stations, food stores and hardware stores.