Driving around at midafternoon, I noticed that the commenters on the previous blog entry offer up to the minute advice: Visibility and speed are likely to be the traffic problems as you head home.
Knock the snow off your car, including the roof, for your sake and that of your fellow drivers. And turn your headlights on.
The main roads I traveled were in pretty good shape. But conditions can change quickly. An easy drive on a main road can become problematic as you cross a bridge or overpass, where you may quickly encounter snow, slush or ice. That and poor visibility are two good reasons to keep speeds down this afternoon.
And don't let the relatively good conditions on the main roads deceive you about what you'll encounter when you return to your neighborhood. Many local streets have not been treated and at midafternoon are covered with snow.
Here's a letter I got from Laura Donnelly after she arrived at work today in Columbia:
"The MD State Highway Administration did not de-ice the multiple overpasses on I-95 at Route 32. Minor car accident and aftermath closed 3 lanes of I-95 northbound and caused a parking lot back to Route 212 and the Capital Beltway. A 20 minute trip took 1 1/2 hours.
"I passed over the bridges at 10:35 -- still slick as glass! Didn't these guys know it was going to snow? Where the blazes were they? This is the major north-south commuting route. "
Here's some of what David Buck, spokesman for SHA, told me in response when I asked about that situation and generally what the highway crews have been doing.
He made these points about treating roadways:
"We would not put down salt too far in advance of any storm. We also do not de-ice. If we put down salt too far in advance of any precipitation, it will just bounce off the road and be a waste of time and money. Our goal is put down the salt as a storm is just beginning, allowing the salt to adhere to the snow and using the traction from tires. If a storm begins in the middle of the rush hour on I-270 and I-495, which are already gridlocked, SHA crews can not effectively treat the roads until traffic subsides."
Buck offered this chronology regarding the storm:
As of midnight, forecasts had the storm starting between 9 and 10 a.m. Forecasts are used to position trucks and make decisions about staffing levels, he said, and in this case, the forecasts were off by a few hours.
Moderate snow began falling by 6:40 a.m. in Washington, Howard and Montgomery counties and earlier in western Maryland, he said. So that was affecting the early rush period this morning. As the rest of the crews came in as planned by 6 to 7 a.m., Buck said, they were stuck in the same heavy traffic as everyone else while attempting to respond.
At this point, he said, the road conditions have mainly been wet, other than on a few bridges and overpasses, "but motorists continue to drive at excessive speeds."
Buck also said this about the Wednesday morning situation:
"Even if we had brought every piece of equipment we owned and every contract truck we employ in at 4 a.m. and stationed them on the side of every road we maintain (which given the forecast, would not have occurred), the same problems would have occurred along I-270 and I-495 this morning," because of the timing of the storm during the morning rush and the shear volume of traffic on those two highways.
"More than 210,000 vehicles a day travel I-270 and it is a very directional road, Buck said. "More than 270,000 vehicles travel the Montgomery Count side of I-495."
Not every driver will see what the highway trucks are doing during a commute, he said. "Each of our trucks has a predetermined route to cover and its generally 5 to 10 miles (depending on locations, urban vs. rural, etc..). So, at 30 mph, each truck covers one direction in 10-15 minutes, another 10-15 minutes in the other direction (without much traffic), and gets to refill gas and salt supply. So if a motorist does not see a truck, it does not mean it was not just there."
Bay Bridge Conditions
The Maryland Transportation Authority just put out an advisory for afternoon commuters saying that the bad weather means that the bridge will not have its usual two-way traffic set up on one of the spans. That's very good for safety, because it means you won't encounter oncoming traffic, but it probably will result in delays getting across the bridge.
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