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Transportation agencies preparing for storm

They all have battle plans, based on years of experience, so they don't have to make it up as the storm develops. Also the road agencies have been focusing more and more on anti-icing efforts -- treatments before the storms arrive -- to avoid fighting a losing campaign against heavy snow.

On the roads, you'll notice trucks spreading salt brine to prevent surfaces from freezing and to melt the snow as it falls. The brine has a very low freezing point, so this procedure does not put you in danger of skidding if you're following a truck. Still, it makes no sense to follow those trucks closely and even less sense to pass them and get ahead of the anti-icing process.

Once the snow starts, the trucks will be de-icing the roads and clearing the snow. If you do have to be traveling on Saturday, stay well back of a plow train. That's the string of plows you might encounter on a major road or Interstate. The trucks spread out across the lanes and you feel like you could go faster, but there's really no safe way to maneuver among those trucks. Plus, they're clearing the snow for you. Why would you want to get ahead of them?

Snow clearing efforts follow priorities: The main roads and emergency routes get attention first. The last areas cleared are the neighborhood streets. So you're most difficult driving during a storm may be in your own neighborhood.

Here are some specifics about what the agencies are up to.

Maryland
Pre-treating: To get a head start on storms and reduce the amount of rock salt needed later, the State Highway Administration sprayer trucks use salt brine on interstate bridges, ramps and overpasses with salt brine up to 24 hours before a winter storm. Those places get priority because they tend to freeze first during a storm.

Clearing: The Statewide Operations Center near Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport monitors a bank of TV screens fed by a network of roadway cameras. The center also receives information from road sensors, shares information among emergency departments, and deploys snowplows and salt trucks. The State Highway Administration has more than 332,000 tons of salt available for the winter.

Virginia
Pre-treating:Priority targets include ramps and bridges at the Springfield interchange, the Capital Beltway interchange at Route 1, interstates 66, 95, 395 and 495, and the Dulles Toll Road. An additional 200 miles of primary and secondary roads will be pre-treated with salt brine. Examples include portions of the Fairfax County Parkway and routes 1, 7, 28, 29, 50 and 123.

Clearing: In Northern Virginia, the Virginia Department of Transportation has about 1,700 pieces of equipment available to handle 15,000 lane miles of roads. Cameras along major routes provide information to VDOT's regional Traffic Operations Center in Fairfax. VDOT will begin to plow a road when one to two inches of snow have accumulated. Crews focus first on roads that carry the most traffic, beginning by clearing interstates, primary roads and major secondary roads. The goal is to have all roads passable within 48 hours after a storm ends.

The District
Pre-treating: The District Department of Transportation has expanded its pre-treating program with more spreaders to cover major roadways as well as the narrow and hilly streets in residential areas. Brine tanker trucks are used for pre-treating.

Clearing: The District has more than 200 pieces of equipment, including heavy and light plows. Residential streets are divided into 82 routes, and a plow is dedicated to each one. This fall, the plows were sent on a dry run to familiarize drivers with their routes. Plowing and salting efforts focus first on major roads, commuter routes and Snow Emergency Routes. Narrow, steep or shaded areas receive special attention, as do streets scheduled for next-day trash collection.

Metro
Metro clears the areas around rail station entrances but not around bus stops.

Metrorail: Up to 20 trains will be equipped with de-icing equipment to deal with snow and ice on the electrified third rail. Heater tape, a cable clipped to the third rail and turned on when temperatures dip below freezing, has been installed on sections of track with significant inclines and in rail yards. Metrorail tries to operate close to a normal schedule in snows of 4 to 6 inches. If a storm of eight or more inches is forecast, Metro might operate underground only.

Metrobus: Because bus service depends on road conditions, riders should anticipate detours and delays as conditions deteriorate.

MetroAccess: The MetroAccess service for riders who are elderly or disabled operates as road conditions dictate. Passengers with scheduled rides should call 301-562-5360 for a status update.

By Robert Thomson  |  December 18, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Weather  | Tags: District Department of Transportation, Dr. Gridlock, Maryland State Highway Administration, Virginia Department of Transportation, WMATA, travel tips  
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