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State Patrol gets most of blame for snowstorm traffic mess

The head of the Wisconsin National Guard issued a stinging report today (Friday) on what authorities didn't do, when 2,000 vehicles got stuck on the Interstate near Madison.

It took hours to tell motorists what was going on.

Brigadier General Donald Dunbar blamed the State Patrol.

It snowed up to 21 inches on Feb. 6 when trucks couldn't make it up a hill.

It trapped vehicles on a 19-mile stretch for up to 12 hours as cars ran out of gas, leaving their occupants cold, wet and hungry.

Some stayed at nearby hotels, but most slept in their cars overnight.

Gov. Jim Doyle wanted answers so he asked Dunbar to investigate.

Patrol officials said they had no idea for hours what was happening, because there were no physical crashes.

Dunbar called it a slow assessment with ineffective leadership. He said the coordination among various agencies was nonexistent, as darkness fell 6 hours into the ordeal.

He said other state agencies could have gotten involved, but didn't. The general did praise his own National Guard, which sent out food and fuel that night, as well as the DNR and sheriff's departments in Dane and Rock counties.

At the time, the State Patrol admitted mistakes but said the bottom line was achieved, because nobody got seriously hurt.

They've gotten heat for not closing the Interstate. But they said it was snowing so much, the nearby two-lane roads couldn't handle the traffic.

A few days later, the State Patrol acted rapidly to close nearly the same stretch of Interstate, when 120 cars got piled up in a much lesser storm.