Leaders look for ways to avoid storm-related gridlock

Traffic on Interstate 95 in downtown Providence moves slowly during the evening commute on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014.

Gridlock and traffic jams seem to go hand-in-hand with winter storms.

There was only an inch or two of snow at most during Tuesday evening's peak traffic time in Providence. Even though everyone knew it was coming, most drivers were going nowhere fast.

"If you are tuned in to the weather reports, you can make good decisions. Companies tell the workers: staggered release whether it's alphabetical or who lives where," Gov. Lincoln Chafee said Wednesday.

"I was in it myself and I experienced real gridlock. I was at a red light for about an hour where there was no movement at all," said Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.

Plugged into the city's and the state's biggest employers, White wants to talk about solutions, like staggered release times from work.

"We would suggest to employers in real-time communication through blast emails, tweets, etc., and other social media to let their employees go on a staggered basis," White said.

Even though forecasting has gotten better over the decades, the same problem persists that brought on "the plug" in the Blizzard of '78 and "the debacle" of Dec. 13, 2007 -- everyone leaving work or school at the same time.

"We need more specific information and more specific guidance, I think, from the state, from the city, in order to be really helpful," White said.

White will be meeting Friday with the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency and the Providence Emergency Management Agency, along with state and local police, to formulate a voluntary plan of staggered release times for businesses and institutions.