SOMEWHERE ON THE NEW JERSEY TURNPIKE -- It is perhaps fitting that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose role after Hurricane Sandy garnered him much praise, would be inaugurated to his second term during a surprisingly ferocious snowstorm that is expected to dump a foot of snow on some areas.
It is also fitting that the snow, which coated highways with a thick and unmanageable layer of icy slush, caused extremely nasty traffic jams in New Jersey: Christie has faced a slew of traffic jokes in the last week, including a duet about traffic jams by his hero Bruce Springsteen and comedian Jimmy Fallon.
But this traffic has a more dangerous edge than the traffic that Christie’s aides are said to have caused back in September when some access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were ordered closed. The type of snow, heavy and wet, made it difficult for plows to clear roads. And it continued to fall as supporters struggled to drive from Trenton, where the inauguration was held, back home.
By 4 p.m., New Jersey State Police had reported more than 200 accidents and 300 stranded motorists in the state, and that was before the evening commute.
The storm seemed to take many in New York and New Jersey by surprise. Some schools let students go early, but the snow started falling at 9 a.m. so there were already heavy accumulations by then. Workers at some state offices weren’t dismissed until 1 p.m.
Christie declared a state of emergency in New Jersey, but not until 11:23 a.m., seven minutes before his inaugural ceremony was to begin.
Already, supporters such as Jeanette Jackson, a Penns Grove council member, had driven in the snow from Newark -- where a morning prayer service was held as part of the inauguration ceremonies -- to Trenton, 58 miles south. Not that she was complaining; she's a big Christie fan and said she wanted to come out and support the governor.
But traffic out of Trenton after the inauguration was essentially a parking lot for an hour as news trucks, Christie supporters, and government workers all tried to leave at the same time along snowy roads.
Christie was forced to cancel his evening inaugural celebration, scheduled to be held on Ellis Island, because of the weather.
The governor joked about the storm at the conclusion of his speech, in a few ad-libbed remarks.
“It is only fitting that in an administration with more hurricanes and disasters of the natural sort of any administration that I remember in my lifetime, that we begin the second term in the same way,” he said, to laughter. “To the folks that could not quite make it down the New Jersey Turnpike to be with us this morning, I understand. To the hearty souls who were here, you have my thanks.”
Some of those hearty souls might also have needed a little help from the state’s tow trucks. New Jersey lowered the speed limit on the New Jersey Turnpike to 35 mph as cars continued to spin out on the roadway. Trips that should have taken an hour took three times that, and local trains, subways and buses were experiencing heavy delays. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency embroiled in scandal over the George Washington lane closures, kept all airports in the region open, as well as all tunnels and roadways.
The traffic caused some people to wonder whether state officials were not as energetic about responding to the storm as they should have been.
“I'm thinking Chris Christie and the Port Authority are behind this snow storm. No way is there ever this much traffic, like ever,” tweeted Brian Roth, under the handle @yowhatupbroth.
It’s a contrast to state responses to the storm that paralyzed cities farther north about a year ago. The storm spun through New England in February 2013, dumping nearly 2 feet of snow in some places. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick imposed a ban prohibiting drivers from the roads unless they needed to drive for work or for an emergency. The governors of Rhode Island and Connecticut also issued travel bans.