RI issues travel ban; motorists could be arrested

Gov. Raimondo speaks during a press conference about the winter storm on Jan. 26, 2015.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo ordered a travel ban for Rhode Island starting at midnight Tuesday to deal with a massive winter storm, and the head of the R.I. State Police warned that motorists who violate the ban could be arrested.

Raimondo issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency shortly after noon Monday, then issued a second executive order declaring a travel ban around 4 p.m. She asked Rhode Islanders to get off the roads by 8 p.m. Monday, and said a “strict,” formal travel ban would take effect at midnight.

“I’m asking every Rhode Islander to please get off the roads by 8:00 tonight,” Raimondo said. “If there’s any way you can not drive, don’t do it tonight. It’ll keep you safe, your family safe, and will allow us to start plowing.” Residents should plan to stay home “into Wednesday,” she said.

With high winds expected, R.I. State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell said the Mount Hope, Jamestown and Newport bridges would close at midnight Tuesday. Other major bridges are also likely to be closed, officials said.

“I want every person in Rhode Island to hear my voice: stay off the roads after midnight,” Raimondo said. “If you’re on the roads after midnight, you’re putting your life in danger and you’re endangering the lives of first responders, state police and people trying to plow us out.”

The travel ban will remain in effect “until I say otherwise,” and it will be “strictly enforced,” the governor said. The executive order said the ban excludes a number of groups, including public-safety and public-workers personnel, journalists, utility workers and medical professionals.

People exempt from travel ban_(1)

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker also issued a travel ban starting at midnight due to the storm, which is expected to drop as much as three feet of snow on some parts of Southern New England between midday Monday and Wednesday morning. Connecticut’s governor issued a travel ban starting at 9 p.m. Monday.

Businesses reacted quickly to the governor’s order. Uber, the ride-sharing company, said it would stop offering its services in Rhode Island during the travel ban. The company said its prices would not exceed 2.9 times its normal fare during the state of emergency, and “proceeds will be donated to the American Red Cross.”

Raimondo said she decided to declare a state of emergency Monday morning because “we believe this storm is so severe that it poses an imminent threat to the safety of our citizens, and as your governor it is my job to protect you and protect our property.”

Col. O’Donnell said the emergency declaration allowed for a travel ban. “We would not like to enforce it if we can avoid it, but yes, if someone decides to be on the road after midnight, legally it’s a misdemeanor under state law,” he said.

The state police also sent a reminder that state law requires motors to have their headlights turned on if they’re driving in rain, sleet or snow, regardless of the time of day.

Raimondo and O’Donnell both urged residents to figure out their plans early in the day Monday to figure out where they will wait out the storm. The governor asked businesses to “be flexible” and allow workers to stay off the roads.

If residents think there is an emergency reason they need to drive, they should call 9-1-1, O’Donnell suggested.

Raimondo said that while the worst of the storm will take place from 1 a.m. to 10 a.m. Tuesday, the snow will continue to come down throughout the day.

“Do not think that you can stay off the roads tonight, wake up tomorrow and go into work,” she said. “It’s going to snow continuously all day tomorrow, and we need you to stay off the roads. … This is a plowing operation, not a salt operation.”

“The rate of snowfall is going to be so intense that it’s going to be very difficult for our plows to keep up so everybody stay off the roads so we can plow as much as possible,” Raimondo said.

Raimondo warned it could take days to get back to normal. “I’m urging patience,” she said. “We know because of the severity of this storm, this is going to be a multiday event. No one should think that they’re going to wake up tomorrow or Wednesday or Thursday and we’re going to be back to normal.”

Michael Lewis, director of the R.I. Department of Transportation, reinforced the governor’s message.

“Even after the plowing operation, you may look out your window and see a clean road, but there are going to be snowbanks blocking intersecting roads,” he said. “Behind the highway, there will be snowbanks blocking the ramps. That takes time to clear off.”

“With this type of event it will be snowing harder than we can plow,” Lewis continued. “The storm will get ahead of us throughout the evening hours. As the governor pointed out, tomorrow is a ‘hunker down’ day.”

Lt. Gov. Dan McKee said Rhode Islanders should also abide by local parking bans.

“This is a very serious matter, not only during the storm but after the storm, in terms of making sure that the side roads of your communities are clear so that emergency services can get in and if there is a need to bring National Grid in to service electric lines,” McKee said.

He added: “Better safe than sorry.”

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @white_tim

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