‘Just trying to remain calm’: Some stuck on Highway 401 in Toronto for more than 8 hours as storm wallops city

Sukhi Sidhu said he hadn’t moved an inch for more than 8 hours after getting stuck Monday morning

When airport taxi driver Sukhi Sidhu set out on Highway 401 in Toronto at about 7 a.m. Monday, he had no idea he’d be sitting there stranded, unable to move an inch, for more than eight hours.

Sidhu was on his way to pick up a customer in Scarborough, Ont., getting onto the highway heading east at about 7 a.m.

It was “total whiteout conditions,” he said. But he had a client to pick up who needed to get to the airport. The smaller roadways were a write-off, he said, so he was certain the highway would be his best bet.

About 15 minutes into his trip, traffic came to a halt, and he was stuck in the same spot for more than eight hours.

“You can’t really do anything,” he told CBC News from his car around 3:20 p.m. “You’ve just go to tell yourself, ‘It’s all good, you’re sitting in a car, you’re good, you’re warm … just carry on.'”

Sidhu used to drive a truck, so he’s used to making sure to have a full tank of gas, but said he worried about those who might not be as prepared.

“I’m just trying to remain calm. I have some water and I’m just with everyone else here, right. It’s terrible, you see little kids, there’s elderly people, they’re stuck.”

‘We’re not stopping until we’re done’

The Ontario Provincial Police says plows are trying to get through, but that there are vehicles snowed over and transport trucks blocked — and the loss of daylight will make the cleanup that much more difficult.

“Help is coming, we’re trying to get through there,” but there’s no way of knowing how long it could take to get people out, said highway safety division spokesperson Sgt. Kerry Schmidt.

“You can’t plow a highway when there’s vehicles on it.”

As for how to clean things up, Schmidt said crews will have to start at the front of the gridlock, clearing out vehicles to create a path and then get others into that path so they can drive out.

Drivers who can are urged to take off traction control and try to help push each other out where possible, he said.

“We’re not stopping until we’re done,” Schmidt said.

As of about 4 p.m. Schmidt said there was no access to Highway 400 northbound from Highway 401 eastbound because of transport trucks blocking the lanes.

“The snow is drifting up and it’s causing all sort of issues,” Schmidt said.

Highway 401 eastbound collector lanes approaching Keele Street are also jammed up.

The situation wasn’t much better on many other routes, with several TTC and GO Transit vehicles seemingly ensnared in the snow. Elsewhere in the city, strings of streetcars were seen stalled.

At about 2:50 p.m., the Toronto Transit Commission said a majority of its fleet was stuck in the snow.

A GO Transit vehicle stuck in the snow on Highway 401 westbound at Leslie Street. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Blizzard forced closure of 2 major arteries

Earlier Monday, blizzard conditions forced the shutdown of two of Toronto’s major arteries, the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway. Both have since reopened.

Stalled streetcars and buses out of service on King Street East, east of Ontario Street, in Toronto. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

Around 10:15 a.m., police closed both routes, along with all connected ramps, to help clear them of heavy snow and stuck vehicles.

By about 12:35 p.m., the eastbound Gardiner had reopened entirely. By 2 p.m., the westbound Gardiner had opened fully as well, along with the southbound DVP. By about 2:45 p.m., the DVP had fully reopened.

The closures meant GO Transit buses serving the city’s Union Station bus terminal were forced to change the start and end points of their trips, the transit agency said.

For trips to and from the west end, GO Transit said buses would pick up and drop off customers at Port Credit GO. Passengers could use the GO train to and from Union Station.

Buses would also drop off and pick up passengers at GO Transit’s Highway 407 bus terminal. Customers could then use the TTC to and from Union Station. 

GO Transit says passengers can find more detailed information about their routes here.

‘Stay home and off the roadways’

The hazardous wintry conditions also forced the closure of the UP Express train that runs from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to the downtown core.

Meanwhile police have urged residents to “stay home and off the roadways” if possible.

“If you have to travel, please take it slow. Make sure you have a full tank of gas, warm clothing and emergency supplies,” they said in a tweet.

The Gardiner Expressway, near the Spadina Avenue exit, appeared empty of traffic Monday after police temporarily closed the highway and the Don Valley Parkway due to the ‘extreme weather.’ (Eva Lam/CBC)
Two snow plows clear a route on Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway. Both the DVP and the Gardiner Expressway were temporarily closed Monday due to extreme weather.