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U Street grease spill stalls morning rush

Mark Berman

* Contest update: We asked you to submit your best grease spill headline earlier and you came through with some very slick ones (sorry for the bad pun). We've selected a winner, or more precisely, two winners: Stodge for "Grease spill turns U Street into 'Eeewww Street' for morning commute" and atom5's "Summertime, and the Livin' is Greasy." Both appeared on PostLocal earlier today. Thanks to everyone that participated.*

Pools of cooking oil on U Street NW.

11:45 a.m. Update by Mike McPhate:

"Gross." "Manure -ish." "Like a rancid Chinese food restaurant."

Residents and workers along the U Street corridor had creative descriptions for the heady stew of heat, asphalt and kitchen grease that filled the neighborhood early this morning after a truck apparently released its load along the commuter artery.

The going theory is that the truck, performing a regular morning pickup of kitchen grease, sprang a leak around 16th and U streets NW sometime before 6:30 a.m., officials and witnesses said. The truck operator then drove about seven blocks eastbound along U Street, all the while spilling the liquid before going dry around Ninth Street.

Police closed U Street between Ninth and 16th streets and 14th Street between T and V streets through the morning rush. The streets had reopened by late morning, although U remained closed to all but city buses between 14th and 16th. DDOT officials were recommending that drivers travel at a maximum of 10 mph.

It was a tough way to start the day for public works and transportation crew workers who labored under a hot sun to spread sand over a stretch of U Street about 10 football fields long. Trucks would dump the sand. Workers, doing their best to avoid inhaling, would then kick it around.

Dozens of police officers were tasked with diverting traffic at intersections and sidewalks, testing the tempers of commuters already challenged by the stink and soaring temperatures. At least one section of sidewalk was closed after pedestrians began slipping. A police officer said four people had fallen on his watch. WTOP reported that a cyclist tumbled.

"It's very slick," William O. Howland Jr., the director of D.C.'s Department of Public Works, said.

Officials said a second layer of sand was being applied to the roadway after the first proved insufficient to absorb the grease. Traffic would then be allowed to resume to help harden the mixture, after which trucks would scoop up the mess.

The driver of the grease truck, likely belonging to a private company, remains a mystery, Howland said. Officials plan to review security footage along the street for additional clues.

Some residents saw humor in the grease mishap.

"Give it about an hour," said Peter Hahn, 33. "You'll be able to cook eggs and bacon."

Post photo gallery | DDOT photo gallery | Video from the scene | Map

-- Mike McPhate

Another scorcher of a day today. Temperatures are making their way to the 100 degree mark again (Heat! In the summer! Who knew?). This means we're in for uncomfortable commutes across the region. Here's a roundup from this morning:

11:25 a.m. Update: Here's a link to a Washington Post photo gallery of the U Street oil spill.

11:15 a.m. Update: DDOT has posted its own photos from the oil spill this morning. They are available here.

10:10 a.m. Update: Traffic control officers are on the scene trying to keep things moving.

10:05 a.m. Update: One lane of 14th Street northbound is open. Same rules apply at U Street.

10 a.m. Update: DDOT says 14th Street southbound has reopened, but it's slick out there. Use caution at the U Street intersection.

9:55 a.m. Update: DDOT just tweeted that U Street will reopen soon. offciials expect traffic to help grind the sand into the roadway, but want people to travel at a maximum of 10 mph.

Meanwhile, the Post's Mike McPhate has this report:

A truck transporting a load of kitchen grease apparently sprung a leak around 16th and U streets in Northwest Washington and drove about seven blocks eastbound along U Street before it stopped, said William O. Howland Jr., the director of D.C.'s Department of Public Works. The truck, likely belonging to a private company, remains at large, officials said.


-- Grease update! The Metrobus lines that travel through U Street are being detoured. The streets are still blocked. And the grease on the road remains, a casual reminder to maybe skip the fries with lunch today.

-- The accident on I-395 South at Duke Street is now just blocking the southbound left lane and right shoulder.

8:40 A.M. UPDATE:

-- There are also slick roads on 7th Street between F and T Street and along U Street, according to a Tweet from the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services. Officials and a District Department of Transportation sand truck are on the scene cleaning up U Street.

8:30 A.M. UPDATE:

-- Grease update! Well, things are actually the same -- U Street is blocked from 9th to 16th streets in Northwest, and 14th Street is also blocked between T and V streets. Clearly alternate routes are in your best interest (at least a few blocks away, because there will be backups due to the closures). Are you seeing anything from your commute? Sound off in the comments below.

-- In non-grease news: An accident on I-395 South at Duke Street is blocking the center lane, right lane and right shoulder.

8:05 A.M. UPDATE:

-- Grease update! Apparently 14th Street is blocked between T and V streets due to hazardous conditions, which is a fancy way of saying there's a grease spill. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the grease might have leaked from a trash truck (from a DDOT Tweet, which also notes they don't know for sure).


-- Grease spill update! U Street is now closed between 9th and 16th streets in Northwest for the cleanup, according to a Tweet from DDOT. So, yes, that will mean a big inconvenience for drivers and everybody should start planning now for alternate routes and delays.

-- The ramp from I-495 South to Arlington Boulevard has reopened.

7:35 A.M. UPDATE:

-- The grease spill is on U Street from 7th to 16th streets, according to a Tweet from DDOT. According to Alert DC, U Street is blocked between 14th and 15th streets in Northwest.

-- The accident on I-95 North has been cleared up.

-- I-395 North is crowded at the 14th Street Bridge.

(Photos by By Gerald Martineau/ For The Washington Post)

7:15 A.M. UPDATE:

-- Here's an odd alert from the District Department of Transportation's Twitter account: A grease spill on U and T streets in Northwest is creating slick conditions. So drive with caution.

6:55 A.M. UPDATE:

-- I-66 East is pretty backed up at Chain Bridge Road.

-- An accident on I-95 North at Sandy Spring Road could slow northbound traffic.

6:25 A.M. UPDATE:

-- The I-495 South ramp to Arlington Boulevard is still blocked.

-- The roads are fairly quiet otherwise.


-- An accident on I-495 South at Arlington Boulevard is blocking the southbound exit ramp.

By Washington Post  | July 7, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Advisories, Commuting, Congestion  
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Next: Dupont Circle escalators out


DC handling of this grease spill is ridiculous. 12th St is blocked at the corner of U where cars have no options except to turn around-causing much traffic. Block it at V or at least put up a notice. Also, if cars can get through on 13th why not other streets? They're all sanded. This was a major mess , and didn't need to be.

Posted by: carmeljudi | July 7, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

I won't be going down there for a long time now.

Posted by: PublicEnemy1 | July 7, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Metro's response was abysmally deficient. Whoever is in charge of emergency response and management should be fired. I was on a 92, that actually routed through Dupont Circle, because there was no clear communication plan dessiminated among drivers.

Posted by: BLKManCommonSense | July 7, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Were there any car accidents that resulted from the spill? Injuries of any kind?

Posted by: Redial1 | July 7, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

If you thought U Street smelled bad already and had a rat infestation problem, just wait until this evening while the kitchen grease cooks in 100+ degree heat. The stench will be overpowering.

Posted by: B-rod | July 7, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Free Bernard Madoff!

Posted by: blasmaic | July 7, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I'm going to coat myself in breadcrumbs, roll around on U St, and see what happens.

Posted by: TheBoreaucrat | July 7, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

It's all George Bush's fault.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | July 7, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Headline suggestion:
Commuters Do the Stinky U Street Slide Today

Posted by: jspinner2 | July 7, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Sand? Nah, toss some french fries out there, a little salt...mmmm good!

Posted by: RichinVA | July 7, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Hold Your Nose, and do the U Street Slip and Slide!

Posted by: | July 7, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

U St.'s 27th Annual "Spy Hunter Day" Ends in Chaos.

Posted by: CV948502 | July 7, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Here's my suggestion for a headline:

"Grease Spill Turns U Street Into ‘Eeewww Street’ for Morning Commute."

Posted by: stodge | July 7, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

"Summertime, and the Livin' is Greasy"

Posted by: atoms5 | July 7, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

BP spill moves North

Posted by: rugone | July 7, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

BP spill moves North

Posted by: rugone | July 7, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

EVOO or Sunflower oil which slides the best.

Posted by: beeps24 | July 7, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Grease!! Can John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John be there too?

Posted by: gary27 | July 7, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

"Slicker than Snot"

Posted by: rdpinva | July 7, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

In D.C. heat wave, U Street is ready to fry an egg

Posted by: rklesmith | July 7, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Headline: U St. rats look forward to dinner of Deep Fried Sand tonight.

Posted by: cib1 | July 7, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

U St Cookin' With Grease!

Posted by: GP04 | July 7, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

DC commuters get carried "GREEZY"

Posted by: julianmccoy | July 7, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

The New U - Now as slippery as Congress.

Posted by: DGLLAI | July 7, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse


"A Real City Slicker: U. Street Grease Spill Fries Morning Commute . . . Leaves Road Clogged like an Artery"

Posted by: kyedre | July 7, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: chips66sray | July 7, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

"U street lathers on the oil for the summer"

Posted by: dmolyaie | July 7, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Wouldn't this have been more appropriate if it happened on P Street between 14th and 17th?

Posted by: damnit79 | July 7, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

@damnit Only if the truck had been from Johnson & Johnson. =P

Posted by: DGLLAI | July 7, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Jiffy Lube Comes Free to U Street.

Posted by: upperdeck4 | July 7, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Well Oiled Machine Doesn't Work as Well as U would think.

Posted by: manifestdustiny | July 7, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Where was the truck taking the grease, and what were the recipients going to do with it?

Posted by: MikeLicht | July 8, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

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