Gov. Malloy thanks DOT workers in Norwich

Norwich — Veteran plow drivers and other maintenance workers at the state Department of Transportation facility on Salem Turnpike in Norwich are used to working 30 hours or longer to clear out a major snowstorm, but they’ve never gotten a personal “thank you” from the governor until Thursday.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy visited DOT maintenance facilities in Old Saybrook, Norwich and Marlborough on Thursday to thank workers for their efforts to clear snow during the blizzard that hit the region Monday and Tuesday.

“Thanks for all your hard work,” Malloy said, shaking hands with several workers as he entered the facility at 171 Salem Turnpike just off Interstate 395 Exit 80. “Did you get some sleep?”

A small conference room to the right of the front entrance still was crammed with Army-style cots that did get some use during the storm, the workers said. Plow drivers worked 17½-hour shifts and then took three-hour breaks. Most of the workers came in Monday morning and didn’t get to go home until Wednesday afternoon.

Several veteran drivers said Thursday that they have never received a personal visit from the governor before and welcomed the “pat on the back.”

Payloader driver Bob Littlefield of Griswold said he has been working for DOT for 32 years and this was his first visit from a governor.

“It’s totally cool,” he said. “A little pat on the back goes a long way.”

General Supervisor Joe LaBrie gave Malloy a brief tour of the truck garage and the maintenance room, where several detached plow blades and other equipment are stored. Malloy asked if the facility has one of the new high-powered mounted snow blowers the state recently added to its snow-removal arsenal to clear bridges and tight areas. This facility doesn’t have one, but did borrow one on Tuesday, the governor was told.

“We’ll have to get you one of those,” Malloy said. The state has 15 of the new machines, he said.

“We’re spending a lot of money trying to get them the right tools,” Malloy said.

The drivers also thanked Malloy for closing the roads during the storm. Hector Martinez of Norwich, a 14-year veteran driver, said it made a big difference in their ability to clear major highways without worrying about slow-moving or stuck vehicles.

“That was just the best thing the governor did,” said Dave Terrell of Preston, a 27-year DOT veteran, “shutting down the roads.”

The Norwich DOT crew did help one stuck vehicle on the Route 2 bypass at the entrance to the Foxwoods Resort Casino. The workers got out of the plow and pushed the woman’s car by hand down the ramp and on her way.

Malloy said he received some criticism for shutting down the roads at 9 p.m. Monday, especially from residents of western Connecticut, which did not get the brunt of the storm. But Malloy said the closure order was “the right call.” Roads were reopened in Fairfield and Litchfield counties on Wednesday morning and statewide at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

“The roads weren’t perfect at 2 p.m., but they were like a normal storm,” Malloy said.

Eastern Connecticut was hardest hit by the blizzard, and Malloy said state officials are studying whether New London, Windham and Tolland counties can qualify for federal disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Malloy said the state has to meet a three-point test to qualify for assistance: state spending, county spending and snow levels.

Without county governments, the Malloy administration needs spending totals from all the towns within the counties to determine whether they meet the federal thresholds.

“We probably won’t know where we stand for a few more days,” Malloy said.

c.bessette@theday.com

Twitter: @Bessettetheday

STATE STORM NUMBERS

■ DOT has 632 snow plows and hires more than 200 contractors to help clear roads in big storms.
■ DOT maintenance staff: including drivers, maintenance, storage facility workers: 1,353.
■ DOT maintenance facilities: 50 locations statewide, including two in Norwich, two in Preston, one each in Salem, Montville, Groton, Waterford and Bozrah.
■ The state plows 5,700 2-lane miles of roads, 11,400 lanes of roadway.
■ Cost: At peak, $110,000 per hour.
■ Incomplete storm total estimate: $4 million.

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