Highway 401 plows create a wall of snow at off-ramps
It’s hard enough to get around in a snowstorm without having to crash your car through a wall of hard-packed snow to exit the 401.
All this snow has made travel an ordeal over the past 24 hours, whether you’re driving or using public transit.
One of the small mercies is the army of sand/salt trucks and plows that hog their way through the snow so the rest of us can get around.
But clearing snow from one area can cause big problems in another, like exit ramps from the 401, where plows inadvertently create a barrier that can be a nightmare for drivers trying to get off the highway.
I was driving home late at night on the 401 during the last big snowstorm, right after Christmas, and ended up behind a conga line of plows that moved as a unit, covering all eastbound lanes.
As we inched along, I noticed the tail gunner plow, in the right-hand lane, would swerve further to the right at off-ramps, pushing most of the snow from the inner lanes to the margins of the road.
It heaped a substantial wall of snow across the exit ramp – just like the snowbanks left at the end of laneways when residential streets are plowed – before the plow swung back into the right lane of the 401.
I watched as a car that was not far behind the plows headed for an exit and slowed down, while the driver contemplated the barrier, then sped up and tried to push through it.
The car burrowed into the hard-packed snow but came to a stop and was clearly stuck, while other drivers behind it also stopped, probably because they weren’t sure what to do.
I hoped it wouldn’t happen at Morningside, where I wanted to exit.
Fat chance. The tail gunner plow, which I was right behind when I got to Morningside, left a thick, metre-high pile of snow across all lanes of the eastbound off-ramp.
I didn’t want to tackle it, based on what I’d seen, so I veered back into traffic and kept going, wondering if I’d have to crawl along to Oshawa before I found a ramp not barricaded by snow.
I drove even slower as we approached the next exit, at Meadowvale, to create more distance between me and the plows. Two cars trying to get off got stuck in the snow, but a pickup truck just ahead of me sped up and punched free, allowing me to follow it.
The snow was dense enough to cause damage to a car, if the driver really stepped on the gas but didn't burst through.
And what of the people who got stuck? Did they try to dig out with their bare hands, or wait for a tow truck?
I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m sure it happened again during this storm, with drivers stacking up at the ramps, right after the plows passed by, too afraid to try their luck, while the bolder ones got stuck.