Portland traffic grinds to a halt in afternoon snowstorm
UPDATE: PBOT declares parking amnesty for cars in parking districts, students stuck for hours at schools and on buses.
Massive traffic jams seized the Portland area as a Wednesday snowstorm shut down area freeways and roads and caused TriMet to cancel service on many lines.
Travel conditions were far worse than earlier predictions, when most forecasters said there might be more snow but less ice than last week's storm. Instead, a lighter snowfall caused far more serious problems, with afternoon traffic brought to a complete standstill on much of Interstate 5 through Portland and on the Sunset Highway and Highway 217 in Washington County.
Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesman Dylan Rivera urged stranded motorists to move their vehicles out of the roads if they feared running out of fuel. PBOT declared a parking meter amnesty for cars legally parked in city meter districts to encourage people to take alternate means of transportation out of the central city. PBOT said the city will allow cars to remain parked in without penalty until noon on Thursday Dec. 15.
Some public school students were stuck in traffic or still at school after normal hours. In Beaverton, hundreds of students were stranded in schools. At about 7 p.m., about 300 Cedar Park Middle School students were still waiting for buses. Vose Elementary School students were boarding buses for home between 7:15 and 7:49 p.m.
Other schools in the district were in the same position, with buses slowly arriving in the snow to take them home.
Long after normal hours, Portland Public Schools' transportation department was still sending texts to parents reporting school bus delays in getting kids home.
KOIN 6 News reported that the North Clackamas School District told parents many middle school students were either still on buses on their way home, or stuck at school. District officials said students were safe and under staff supervision.
Students at North Clackamas High School were watching a movie while they waited for safe travel home. They were also given dinner at the school.
TriMet canceled some bus lines, put all others on snow routes, and warned of delays on MAX lines. Riders were urged to check for upates at trimet.org/#alerts/.
Multnomah County warned that several roads in the West Hills were closed because of abandoned vehicles and accidents, including Northwest Kaiser Road between Germantown and Brooks; Brooks between Kaiser Skyline; Germantown between Skyline and Kaiser. Also, Northeast 238th Drive in Wood Village was closed on the hill between Arata Road and Glisan Street due to snowy conditions and several vehicles that lost traction.
Snow had coated Portland streets by mid-afternoon. Vehicles were inching along on major streets by then, and traffic was moving at about 5 mph in Portland on I-5. Some semi-trucks had pulled to the side of the interstate because it was so slick. A number of cars pulled over to put on chains.
The Columbia River Gorge east of Portland was especially hard hit. Officials reported at least five vehicle crashes along a 21-mile stretch of Interstate 84, which runs through the gorge. The accidents were between Hood River and The Dalles.
Oregon Public Broadcasting, a Portland Tribune news partner, contributed to this story.