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Snow Traveling

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.

outer loop.jpg Pavement on the Beltway's outer loop in Silver Spring was clear. (Robert Thomson)

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.

University.jpg Here's University Boulevard, also looking good. (Robert Thomson)

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.

overpass.jpg But here's slush on a nearby overpass. (Robert Thomson)

"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."

neighborhood.jpg Here's a neighborhood street, at about the same time. (Robert Thomson)

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.

By Robert Thomson  |  December 5, 2007; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  Weather  
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Around 10:45am this morning the bridge on Porter Street that goes over Rock Creek Park was shut down due to an accident on the northbound lane. I take the H4 bus in the morning to work and the driver had to use an alternate route to get to Connecticut Avenue. Will this stretch of Porter Street be open during the even commute?

Posted by: Bob K | December 5, 2007 3:17 PM | Report abuse

what rubbish from the sha...i lived in CT and the trucks moved out in tandem, split three across the lanes of I-95 long before rush hour and then did loops so they were in front of the traffic as it built up...spreading whatever it was on the roads...i never saw the kind of backups on I-95 (and remember this is the NYC to Boston main artery) even in whiteouts that we have here with just the mention of snow.

also the plows there scraped the could see the they keep plows up and spread something willy nilly without often clearing the snow..not that this morning required a plow, just a thin spread of de-ice which as the sha person said they don't do...

Posted by: Anonymous | December 5, 2007 3:53 PM | Report abuse

What forecast was David Buck looking at? had the snow starting to fall at 6am when I checked last night! I call BS on his estimated time of snow arrival.

Posted by: chaps | December 5, 2007 4:02 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Anonymous | December 5, 2007 4:37 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Bob | December 5, 2007 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Can you believe the IDIOTS who cannot be bothered to reach down and turn on their #@%&&^ lights? And I'm talking at 4:30, 5:00...

I, surprisingly, did not see any particularly stupid driving manuevers--everyone went slow, etc.

Posted by: cb | December 5, 2007 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Why is DC so incompetent when it comes to snow and ice removal? I am continually amazed and I have lived here virtually my entire 40 years. The commute last night was horrific - there was ice buildup on the Connecticut Avenue bridge over Rock Creek Park at Calvert - it's amazing there wasn't an accident. And this morning (Thursday Dec. 6) the side roads were in terrible condition - there were numerous episodes of cars spinning their tires trying to get traction. Fenty was all about city services when he was a councilman but I have been unimpressed with his stewardship as mayor thus far.

Posted by: JH | December 6, 2007 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Ok, no more crap excuses from the DOTs because it's doable to make the roads driveable. How do I know, simple, I drove to Boston last year in a snow storm (I-95 most of the way except between Hartford and Boston). Here is what I found on the way up there.

Virginia and Maryland up the bridge with the high winds did a horrible job of clearing the roads.

Maryland from the high winds bridge (sorry, I really can't remember, is it Kent Narrows???) up through the Delaware Toll Plaza and the Delaware Memorial Bridge were in great shape.

Del. Mem. to the NJ Turnpike, scary in some areas, and completely bone dry in others. Once on the NJ Turnpike it was smooth sailing until Newark when the roads got really nasty and the car started to slide going 15mph.

Now, through NYC, it was all fine (we missed the turn for the Tappan-Zee), roads were great, felt like nothing had fallen on the roads, then we get north of Hartford and it was almost like they hadn't been on the roads yet. It was the strangest thing I've ever seen. A completely clear left lane, looked plowed and all that. Then, all of a sudden, the far right lane was completely cleared but getting over into that lane was an adventure. This happened from Hartford up to the Mass line where the roads were 100% again.

Why do we keep allowing these people at the DOT's to make these excuses when it shows in other cities that this stuff works and works great (save Hartford and Newark). Is it because the good ole boys who've been unioned for the last 30 years say it can't be done so it won't? Is it because the DOT's are trying to reinvent the wheel when the technology is already there and in place? Wait, are the DOT's also run by Metro???

Posted by: Jarrod | December 6, 2007 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I hereby take back what I said (in the previous thread) yesterday about DC's roads being better than the suburban ones. During the storm, DC managed to keep the roads clearer than Maryland's. But apparently DC gave themselves a pat on the back and went home, while Maryland/Virginia crews were out overnight making sure the roads were clear today. The result? Ice all over the place...slippin and slidin on MacArthur Blvd, saw two accidents due to ice. As soon as you crossed into Maryland, the roads were clear!

The slight uphill grade at Connecticut/Cathedral was pretty problematic...couldn't get enough traction to get moving when the light turned green...can't wait to see how bad that is during evening rush when everyone is making that turn. Apparently a lot of other secondary roads in NW DC were pretty bad too (Nebraska, Massachusetts, Arizona, Cathedral were specifically mentioned).

Posted by: Woodley Park | December 6, 2007 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Where were the DC salt trucks on the side streets? The main roads were nice and clear, but usually are just from traffic. But every secondary/tertiary street had a 1/2 inch of ice and no apparent salt on it.

And, while I'm at it--a reminder that traffic laws still apply. That means you, SUV person who ran right through a stop sign in front of me.

Posted by: ah | December 6, 2007 11:36 AM | Report abuse

How about the fact that last night, at about 10-11pm, the TR bridge was closed "due to icy conditions"? I can't believe that the District would rather close a vital artery in and out of the city than properly deice it.

Posted by: Arlington Driver | December 6, 2007 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Driving South on 270 this morning around 9:15. Traffic moving slower than normal which was to be expected. Many cars on the road. Out of nowhere a car comes plowing across the median from 270 north, seems to pick up speed, spinning out of control. It was like a bowling ball toward pins. Coming straight for me. I prayed out loud to God that he wouldn't hit me, swerved to the right, closed my eyes. the car spun around me. I looked behind me and miraculously, NO ONE was hit. It was truly a miracle. That car was coming FAST. All the drivers around were able to scatter safely. I have no idea if that car spun out of control due to ice or maybe the drive had a medical condition or what. We were all very lucky, and blessed this morning.

Posted by: from Urbana | December 6, 2007 1:00 PM | Report abuse

"How about the fact that last night, at about 10-11pm, the TR bridge was closed 'due to icy conditions'? I can't believe that the District would rather close a vital artery in and out of the city than properly deice it."

The District probably believes that clearing the roads is a bad thing to do because if they leave them to freeze, more people might take the Metrorail. Clearing the roads, in their minds, is probably a bad thing because suburban white people would have access to the city by road.

Posted by: Rich | December 6, 2007 1:37 PM | Report abuse

LOL, good one Rich :)

Here's my assessment: they probably closed it so they could get the ice off of it without interference from traffic. As we saw from yesterday morning, heavy traffic can interfere with snow removal operations, and I'd rather they shut the bridge and get the ice off of it than let people drive on it and crash into each other.

Posted by: Woodley Park | December 6, 2007 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Haven't these people ever heard of liquid de-icer?

Posted by: MD commuter | December 6, 2007 3:52 PM | Report abuse

LOL, good one Rich :)

Hardly - it was a racist comment and I would like to see it removed ASAP.

Posted by: John Arbuckle | December 7, 2007 12:09 AM | Report abuse

end gentrification, close all the bridges!

Posted by: keep out whitey | December 7, 2007 9:58 AM | Report abuse

"John Arbuckle": If I wanted to make a racist comment, I would be very blunt and make it completely unambiguous through use of offensive words. My post was intended as satire. Sorry to hear you don't have a sense of humor.

Posted by: Rich | December 7, 2007 10:30 AM | Report abuse

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