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12-hour commute during snow storm a chaotic ‘nightmare’ in B.C.’s Lower Mainland

Gridlock as the snow piled up wreaked havoc across the region
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Dozens of vehicles sit stranded on the northbound lanes of the Alex Fraser Bridge on Tuesday night. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)

It usually takes Cloverdale’s Kristina Trotzuk about an hour to get home from work on Annacis Island.

On Tuesday, it took her more than 12.

“It was the most frustrating, stressful, scary situation I’ve ever been through,” she told Black Press Media Wednesday morning after just a few hours sleep.

“It was just absolute chaos.”

Trotzuk was among a gridlock of drivers trapped in their vehicles as a fierce storm blanketed much of British Columbia’s south coast and Vancouver Island with up to 25 centimetres of snow, causing traffic chaos, power outages and airport delays.

She left her work at 4:15 p.m. Two hours later, she had only made it to the Cliveden exit for Highway 91 – a 15-minute walk from her work. She could see that the Alex Fraser Bridge, one of the main artieries across the Fraser River, was a mess. It looked like a construction zone, with buses sideways and tow trucks.

At this point few cars, if any, were getting across the bridge. She decided to try the George Massey tunnel. The road going on Highway 99 had not been plowed or salted.

“It was like driving a mountain road, it was the freakiest thing ever,” said Trotzuk.

At around 10:30 p.m., DriveBC reported the George Massey tunnel was closed southbound due to an accident, so she had to reroute again.

LETTER: Real reason for snow storm traffic gong show is ill-prepared drivers

Trotzuk criss-crossed around Delta and Richmond for the next several hours, trying to find a clear route home. Most of the time, she was moving, even if it was at a snail’s pace, except when she was on the No. 5 road in Richmond trying to get on Stevenson Highway.

She recalls telling her husband Perry at 11:45 p.m. she should be home soon. The next thing she knew, it was 2 a.m., and she had not moved. Everywhere she looked, she could see cars in the ditch and spinning out.

For his part, Perry said it was a terrible feeling sitting at home not being able to help his wife.

“I was helpless with no way to help her out,” he said. “Makes me sick to my stomach.”

Trotzuk then heard that Steveson Highway had closed. As she sat in gridlock traffic, she wondered what she should do. It felt like there was nowhere to go.

“Do I cry?”

A local radio station encouraged drivers to make their way to the Golden Ears Bridge. She found a different route that was clear. Within 40 minutes, she was jumping into her bed at 4:55 a.m.

SEE ALSO: Kudos to couple for feeding drivers stuck in Surrey snowstorm traffic — but who are they?

Her experience was hardly unique. When Bharanisai Madhusudhan stopped at the grocery store on his way home from work Tuesday afternoon, he expected the trip from Vancouver to Surrey to take him about 45 minutes.

Instead, it would be nearly 12 hours before he arrived home.

“If I had walked to my home, I would have reached there about four hours earlier,” he said.

Madhusudhan said he saw drivers travelling with infants and spoke to one senior who was worried about running out of his medication. Abandoned vehicles on the side of the road suggested some people had decided to leave their cars and walk.

The frustration from drivers was palpable, he said.

“Actually, it was scary because the last thing you want to do is get stranded on the top of a bridge and just wait for a towing vehicle, which was also not possible because a lot of towing vehicles were stranded as well,” he said.

He said the government could have done a better job preparing for the storm that it knew was coming and of notifying people when the bridge was being shut down.

Trotzuk felt the same, adding she believes cities could have done more to prepare as well. The snowplows she saw had a hard time clearing the roads because they were full of gridlock traffic and abandoned cars.

Reflecting on last night’s experience, she was emotional and called the whole experience was “surreal.” She has lived in the area her entire life and said she has never experienced anything like that before.

“It was so unorganized,” she said.

Officials with the Ministry of Transportation were expected to provide an update on the situation Wednesday.

Thankfully Trotzuk had enough gas and a vehicle with all-wheel drive. But the experience taught her to be more prepared for next time – like making sure she has a warm coat in her car.

When Black Press Media spoke to her on Wednesday (Nov. 30), she was on her way to work. This time, it only took her 35 minutes. The only people on the road today are the vehicles people abandoned last night during the storm, she said with a chuckle.

Environment Canada lifted snowfall warnings Wednesday for Vancouver Island and Metro Vancouver but was predicting up to 10 centimetres more over the Fraser Valley and along the Sea-to-Sky corridor between Squamish and Whistler.

— with a file from The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Snowy commute causes chaos on Surrey roads during Tuesday night storm

READ MORE: Surrey schools remain open while neighbouring cities’ students enjoy a snow day



anna.burns@surreynowleader.com

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Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I started with Black Press Media in the fall of 2022 as a multimedia journalist after finishing my practicum at the Surrey Now-Leader.
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