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Tools for the Morning Rush

It's getting better but still slick in spots. You may find your car encrusted in ice, but the rain and morning warming are helping. If you can do as many school districts are doing and start late, you'll probably be better off. Here's the National Weather Service forecast.

If you must go, make sure the interior of the car has warmed up so the windows won't be coated in ice again before you get out of the neighborhood.

Here's a link to our storm story. And this link takes you to the closings and delays page, which may provide some extra incentive for staying in.

If you must go out, here's the traffic page, which has a map pinpointing accidents and slowdowns across the Washington region, as well as traffic cameras. There are numerous reports of traffic signals not working.

The Weather Channel has a good list of tips from safety organizations for driving on ice, which starts with, Slow Down and includes a warning to four-wheel drivers that you're likely to have just as much trouble as everyone else in these conditions.

All the highway departments had their crews out overnight treating the roads, but conditions will vary. You may find that the most difficult part of the trip is getting out of the neighborhood streets, many of which remain icy and may also have fallen branches and downed wires. If you make it that far, don't be lulled by a stretch of good road. Things can change in a hurry, especially if you drive along an overpass or bridge.

Make an adjustment for pedestrians. They'll be walking more tentatively and may stop suddenly or fall. And you won't be able to brake as quickly as usual.

Metro had some delays affecting Blue and Yellow Line riders. Check the crawl at the top of the transit authority's home page. Rush hour service will be extended for an hour this morning, till 10:30 a.m., because of the late starts and extra demand from people who wisely choose not to drive. Buses are more problematic. Many Metro and suburban routes will experience delays because of the ice. Metrobuses will not be operating the Northern Virginia neighborhoods of Dominion Hills or Seven Corners this morning because of the ice. The MetroAcess service for the disabled is operating, but expect delays here, too.

Maryland buses: I-70 closed near Mt. Airy, the MTA says. Eyre reports that the first several buses may be delayed due to a detour around I-70.

Suburban rail: Here's a link to MARC tracker for updates on the Maryland trains. And here's one for updates on VRE service in Northern Virginia. There are delays on both services.

Springfield interchange: Traffic is moving through the Mixing Bowl at Springfield, which was such a mess into the night.

What was your experience last night and this morning?

By Robert Thomson  |  February 13, 2008; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Advisories  
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I got on a bus at the Pentagon around 6:15 last night and got home at 9:50. Needless to say, that is not my normal experience. It took over 30 minutes to get from the Pentagon Transit Center to the 395 on-ramp; about 90 minutes to get from there to the Quaker Lane exit from 395 HOV; and about another 60 minutes to get across the west side of Alexandria to the Landmark/Van Dorn area. Everyone on the bus was pretty cooperative and good humored about it, though I cannot say the same for some of the drivers I observed in other vehicles.

Posted by: S in Alexandria | February 13, 2008 8:59 AM | Report abuse

I'm continually amused by how Washingtonians react to the slightest bit of winter weather. Having lived in the mountains west of Denver for 10 years, snow, ice and winter driving are a simple fact of life. With that said, the MD DOT needs to take a lesson or two from the CO DOT on how to treat and keep roads in good shape. (The Springfield Mixing Bowl nightmare from last night would never have happened in Denver.)

The folks complaining about schools opening with a 2 hour delay this morning on the news are the silliest ones of all. (They thought schools in Mongtomery should have been closed today.) I drove from my house in Gaithersburg/North Potomac to my office in Bethesda in less than 15 minutes at 7:30am this morning, no problems at all.

My co-workers here suggest that Washingtonians have gotten worse in the last 5-10 years as far as what conditions "they can brave". I just sit back and laugh. I'm off to Breckenridge tomorrow for a long weekend; the snow depth out there is over 100 inches, upwards of 200 inches in spots.

Posted by: Colorado native | February 13, 2008 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Correction: I should have been referring to the VA DOT in my post. (The Springfield interchange is handled by the nuts at VA DOT.)

Posted by: Colorado native | February 13, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Colorado Native, you said it. In the MOUNTAINS near DENVER, ice driving is a "simple fact of life." But this ain't Colorado. Drivers here simply don't deal with ice enough to get experienced driving in it. (Also, there are about 4 million more drivers here than in the mountains near Denver.) So there's no need to bash Washingtonians.

Yes, the local transit folks probably could learn some lessons from the Colorado highway people. But I would still argue that the Colorado mountain situation in February is not very comparable to the DC-area February temperature pattern or road situation. (Apples to oranges.) And I doubt even Colorado salts roads anew when the temperature is 31 and expected to rise. Unfortunately, here on Tuesday, the temperature did not rise above freezing.

So in DC, sometimes we have to roll the dice (or not roll the dice); we have to salt or not salt. In Colorado, that decision is usually easier to make -- since the weather is more extreme and the roads less crowded.

And salting unnecessarily is wasteful, hazardous, and generally ludicrous, too.

Posted by: Ice Pirate | February 13, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I left the office at 7:17 last night. At that time of day it's normally a 20-minute shot down the I-395 express lanes, then the Beltway to Van Dorn to home. Last night I could see that none of the approaches to the 14th Street Bridge were moving (no surprise there after what I had already learned about the mess in Springfield). So I went across Independence Avenue to Memorial Bridge, hoping to loop around past the Pentagon to Columbia Pike. No luck there--the road leading to the Pentagon was backed up onto Memorial Bridge. So I took US-50 instead, headed out to George Mason Drive (nearly collided with a stupid foreigner driving without headlights when I went to change lanes to exit from US-50....if those Virginia driving fines were justified at all, it would be for idiots driving without headlights). George Mason Drive was fine until I crossed Columbia Pike (which wasn't moving either), at which time it became a standstill, so I looked at my sat-nav and found a way through some of the residential communities in that area. Slow going with all the stop signs, but better than sitting in stopped traffic. Eventually made my way through to the Skyline area and saw that Seminary Road was still at a standstill from the 10-car crash earlier in rush hour, so I went through another residential neighborhood and came out on Columbia Pike west of Bailey's Crossroads. By this point there was no traffic on Columbia Pike. Followed it to Braddock Road, took that to Clifton Street, took that to Edsall Road, then looped around via Industrial Drive to Backlick Road into Springfield. Backlick going straight through was at a standstill, but the left lane that goes to the old Backlick Road was clear, so I took that to Commerce Street to Franconia Road and the last part of the trip was uneventful. Got home at 9:20 to find my driveway was a sheet of ice.

All in all, two hours 3 minutes door-to-door. But at least I wasn't stuck for four hours in Springfield like the people who were being interviewed on the radio. One poor lady had to get an empty flowerpot out of her trunk in order to take a whiz (guess the idea of squatting on the side of a highway ramp didn't appeal to her).

I decided to telecommute today after hearing about more crashes on the radio. Plus I had a splitting headache when I got home and my neck is still stiff this morning.

Posted by: Rich | February 13, 2008 10:23 AM | Report abuse

My experience yesterday? Was sitting for hours on a shut-down Rt 50, waiting for the Severn River bridges to re-open. It took me 5 hours to get home last night, and I missed voting. MD SHA should be ashamed of itself.

Posted by: 'nora | February 13, 2008 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Typically Colorado has the benefit of being cold, and staying cold, so there's not much guesswork about whether precipitation will freeze or stick. DC is constantly hovering around the freezing mark, leading to far more freeze/thaw cycles, which wreak havoc on the road surfaces.

In any event, I can agree that DC drivers are frustratingly idiotic when a little bit of snow or sleet hits the road. Half of the drivers overreact and drive at 30mph on the beltway, and the other half underreact and continue driving at 75mph. And DC may not get as much snow/ice as Denver or even Boston, but seriously - how long does it take to learn to drive in it? Three storms? Four? We'll get that many storms in a typical year, so what's the problem? If you really want to jump-start your snow-driving education, spend 30 minutes in an empty parking lot on a snowy/icy night, and get a feel for how your car handles.

Here's the bottom line - it takes longer to start, stop, or turn, and you can only do one at a time. Don't turn the wheel and slam on the brakes because you'll neither stop nor turn. So people need to use some common sense, leave a bit more room behind the car in front of them, and deal with it. And if VDOT or MDOT or anyone else needs to salt the roads, even if temps are "expected to rise," do it. It's an embarrassment that the nation's capital can be so easily paralyzed by such a minor event. Yes, I know that salt and trucks and drivers cost money. But it also costs money to have police officers reacting to accidents, tons of commuters parked and idling on the highway, and lost productivity. Government services exist to improve the quality of our lives - my quality of life (along with thousands of others) was pretty low trying to get through the mixing bowl last night, and it was totally preventable. Let's get the job done.

Posted by: Boston Native | February 13, 2008 10:32 AM | Report abuse

So natives of cold, snowy places learn to walk or drive on ice without slipping? Please tell me how. I must have missed learning that somehow, b/c I was slipping all over the place on DC's unsalted streets last night.

Posted by: Michigan Native | February 13, 2008 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I was PROFOUNDLY disappointed with the MTA.

The 5:34PM departure was delayed last evening, for what reason I don't know. At 5:48, my husband and I decided to catch the 5:51 Camden Line; when we arrived in Baltimore, we planned to take the light rail to Penn Station.

Although the conductor did warn of icy platforms, I was shocked at how very slick the raised platform at Camden Yards was -- a few people fell. There was NO SALT OR SAND on the raised platform.

We managed to catch the light rail and had a speedy trip to Penn Station but that station was a skating rink. They'd salted a bit by the front door but not at the side door where the MTA buses that run along Charles St. (a major thoroughfare) stop. People were slipping and one fell trying to board a northbound bus.

Posted by: Melissa | February 13, 2008 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Took my usual commute route from Tysons to West End Alexandria via Gallows Rd & Little River Tnpk yesterday; after hearing about the mixing bowl, any freeway connected to it was verboten. This -- and all detours -- was clogged to the brim, and a 45-minute-max trip took 2.5 hours. Caught a patch of ice nr Dunn Loring metro, but it was a side-street, & I was already driving slowly here. Didn't see any accidents on this route.

My only problem was the sidewalks around my polling place in VA, which I reached at 6:55p. Concrete and brick were unpassable, while grass & asphalt were safe havens. We were all rewarded for our civic duty by 10 sq ft of unavoidable ice-covered sidewalk in front of the exit door.

Posted by: California Native | February 13, 2008 1:25 PM | Report abuse

So natives of cold, snowy places learn to walk or drive on ice without slipping? Please tell me how. I must have missed learning that somehow, b/c I was slipping all over the place on DC's unsalted streets last night.

No, not at all. Streets, sidewalks and any walkable service are treated/salted in cold, snowy places accustomed to winter weather (read, NOT Washington DC).

Posted by: Colorado native | February 13, 2008 1:54 PM | Report abuse

This whole thing is one reason that trains are better than busses.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 13, 2008 5:04 PM | Report abuse

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