Highway 13: Someone was asleep at the switch, Coderre says

Politicians weighed in on Tuesday night's massive pileup on Highway 13 south which left dozens of motorists stranded for several hours.

Mayor Denis Coderre spoke to reporters at City Hall on Wednesday, telling them none of this should have happened and that somebody — likely someone at the Quebec transport department — was asleep at the switch.

"Surely, it's exceptional," Coderre said, "but look. I lived through the Storm of the Century in 1971. I'm old enough. But it doesn't make sense that people are stranded 13 hours."

Coderre says during the first conference call with Transport Quebec just before midnight, no one mentioned the stranded people. 

"At that time, they said, 'we're closing Highway 13'. We have some issues of shovelling the snow, but nobody was talking about how you had 300 cars stuck there."

It wasn't until 4 a.m., he said, that they were finally told about what happened. That's when fire trucks and buses were dispatched to shelter people from the cold.

In Quebec City, premier Philippe Couillard, along with his public security minister Martin Coiteux and his transport minister Laurent Lessard, spoke with reporters on Wednesday morning. Couillard says he promises to get to the bottom of what appears to have been a glaring lack of communication.

"We have to take the lessons from this situation and we'll have to do better — much better — next time," Couillard said, admitting the response to the storm "lacked coordination".

Coiteux, for his part, says it's not acceptable that so many people were stuck on the highway for so long.

“It’s deplorable. It’s something that we don't want to happen," he said. "I understand the frustration. Even if we deployed all the resources, if we can improve things in the future we will do so."

Parti Québécois leader Jean-Françcois Lisée was quick to place the blame squarely at the government's feet, saying this constituted this government's "worst crisis management" since Couillard came to power.

Coderre, meantime, said the abandoned cars that were towed away from the scene can be collected at Burstall, 480 Montréal-Toronto Blvd. in Lachine. If you have to pick your car up there, you'll be billed $218 in fees, but you will be reimbursed by Quebec.