Plowing results vary across D.C. region
From what I've seen and from the reports I've received from you, the road clearing operations have achieved mixed results. It's not just a question of highways vs. neighborhoods. Conditions vary along one stretch of highway, or from neighborhood to neighborhood. Here's a sample.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I have been impressed with Montgomery County's efforts to get roads clear after the Snowmageddon. The county-maintained roads that have been plowed have been clear to the pavement with generally space for two vehicles to pass.
I know they were still clearing neighborhoods Monday and I know that people on small roads and, especially, cul-de-sacs have felt generally ignored. But really my comment is about the shockingly poor performance by the Maryland Department of Transportation on the state-maintained roads, which are the busiest and most highly traveled.
I was on the Beltway on Monday and it was in good shape. But Wisconsin Avenue/Rockville Pike, Connecticut, East-West Highway, Bradley Boulevard, and so on, are all in awful condition. These are major routes and heavily used and some of the intersections -- particularly East-West at Wisconsin and East-West at Connecticut -- were almost impassible.
On Monday afternoon, I heard from a Montgomery County resident resident who said neighborhood streets in Silver Spring that were passable had become so only so because neighbors banded together to work on them or drove heavy vehicles along them to pack the snow down.
Also Monday, Steve Yaffee wrote in with this complaint: Please ask VDOT, MDOT and DDOT how they define "passable." Do they think that a highway lane with 4" of packed snow except for the sudden drops for bare pavement is "passable"? Is the "passable" standard 10 mph in a 4-wheel drive vehicle?
This morning, Post staff writer Ceci Connolly reported that Massachusetts Avenue in the District was one lane in each direction. She described Wisconsin Avenue as a "slushy mess."
Staff writer Nikita Stewart reports that D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty will reinstate the snow emergency at 4 p.m. to clear major roadways in anticipation of Tuesday's storm. The weekend emergency rule had been lifted on Monday morning.
In many traffic camera views, the road conditions vary greatly. Whether in city or suburb, some stretches have multiple lanes cleared completely, while others show huge snow piles blocking side lanes or turn lanes, and certainly hampering drivers' vision.
In most areas, clearing the snow has been much more challenging this time than it was during the December storm. Remember how cold it was during that snowfall, and how light the snow was? This one was deeper and heavier, and much more difficult to clear.
I'll use Maryland as the example in this posting, but highway departments across the regional follow the same game plan: They attack the main roads first and when they are at least passable, they move into the neighborhoods. The Maryland State Highway Administration is responsible for state-numbered roads and U.S. routes. The Montgomery County Department of Transportation tackles neighborhood streets.
There's plenty of work to go around. Montgomery County says it has 800 pieces of equipment out on the streets and hopes to get to every one of them at least once by noon Tuesday. County officials are asking people not to call 911 with snow plowing questions because it delays responses to emergencies.
But the number of calls to the snow line, 240-777-6000, has gotten so large that the county also is asking people not to call that number right now. "A record number of callers have overwhelmed the phone line, as residents panic to get out of their neighborhoods before the next storm," the county said in a statement this morning.
In a Monday afternoon press conference, State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen talked about the huge challenges the state crews face on the Capital Beltway, I-270, I-95 and U.S. 50, among others. Many drivers could see for themselves: Lanes disappeared into snow banks, merge lanes were non-existent, ramps were slushy or icy or both, and piles of snow blocked views of on-coming traffic.
Driving was especially difficult around interchanges. It had gotten past the point where plows could deal with it, so heavier equipment had to be brought in. The natural conditions created some traffic delays and the snow-clearing operations created others.
That's still true on Tuesday morning, even as the crews push to create enough room by the sides of the roads to put all the new snow that's forecast to start falling Tuesday afternoon.
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