Driving in Winter Weather
With snow showers and slush in the forecast, I thought I'd publish this reader's observation about his drive on the Capital Beltway during the Jan. 21 snowfall, and a request that you let me know about your travel experiences in today's weather. (Either here, on "Get There," or in an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.) Before you leave today, check for current driving conditions on our Traffic Page.
Our highway departments actually take a lot of pride in their ability to prepare for and execute a cleanup, while travelers are always on the lookout for lapses. Here's what dismayed one motorist last time.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Unfortunately I had to travel on the inner loop of the Beltway from the Wilson Bridge to Tysons Corner on the evening of January 21st. This snow event was well-forecasted on three counts: timing-wise, intensity-wise, and total accumulation: A light snow fell from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. totaling approximately 1 to 1.5 inches.
When I drove this section of the Beltway from 6 to 7:20 p.m. I did not see a single salt truck. The event was well underway by this point. Some sections of the road had been salted, as evidenced by the lack of snow accumulation, but others appeared completely untouched. It appears the Virginia Department of Transportation did not keep on top of this relatively minor snow event.
Ryan Hall, a spokesman for VDOT, replied:
VDOT initially had 70 snowplows staged to treat the interstates by noon. VDOT crews began to treat the interstates with salt sprayed with liquid calcium chloride, a chemical that helps prevent water from freezing at lower temperatures, once there was a slight accumulation on the road surface.
For the first few hours there was not enough accumulation on the road surface for crews to begin plowing. There is a balance between treating the road and plowing. Once you plow the surface you pull up all salt and the road is more susceptible to freezing. VDOT crews continually treated the roadways and began to increase the number of snowplows. By 4 p.m. there were 250 trucks, although the number of trucks had risen throughout the day, so did the number of commuters and VDOT trucks were just like any other vehicle and were not immune from bumper to bumper traffic that plagued the area roadways on Sunday.
Once the snow stopped falling around 6 p.m., VDOT began to plow slush from roads and added 150 snowplows by 8 p.m. There were over 400 vehicles working around the clock to have the commuter routes and all the area park-and-ride lots free of ice and slush by the morning rush hour.
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