Road crews fight back against storm
Forget every other tough day this remarkable winter. Mere child's play compared to this Wednesday. Highway workers, who deserve a week's worth of sleep, are in an unusually tough fight against the snow on the roads and the snow in the air.
Some transportation directors in Maryland, Virginia and the District have told their plow drivers to pull over if they can't see in the driving snow, but they say they are not giving up. However, the struggle to return to normal transportation conditions is likely to extend through the work week.
"The weather conditions are some of the worst we've seen in years," Maryland State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said in a statement. "You are taking your life into your own hands and jeopardizing others' lives if you choose to go out."
The Virginia Department of Transportation has brought in crews from the southern part of the state to help with snow removal. More than 2,000 trucks are on the roads in Northern Virginia, plowing and treating interstates, primary roads, and subdivision and side streets, VDOT says.
Because the 4x4 pickup trucks VDOT uses for a typical four- to six-inch storm cannot handle the deep snow, additional larger trucks and front loaders are working to clear remaining subdivision and side streets buried in the last storm. The additional crews will continue to clear neighborhoods as long as possible, until they are needed again to address emergency routes, interstates and other high-volume roads, VDOT says.
Minimal visibility and high-drifting snow have made driving extremely dangerous. Crews out in full force also need the full width of many roads to navigate snowplow trains and put down chemicals, VDOT says.
The I-95/395 HOV) lanes closed at 11 a.m., and will re-open either Thursday afternoon or Friday morning depending on road conditions.
The State Highway Administration continues to plow state highways as conditions worsen, power lines and trees block travel lanes and winds create white out conditions, the SHA said. In some cases, SHA crews are temporarily pulling off the road and ceasing plowing until visibility improves.
Until conditions improve, state highway crews in Prince George's and Montgomery counties are suspending plowing operations, along with the some local jurisdictions.
At SHA's Statewide Operations Center near Baltimore Washington International Marshall Airport, operators can see views from about 300 traffic cameras, and it isn't pretty, SHA says. Cars are spinning out and leaving drivers stranded.
Not only can the stuck vehicles contribute to crashes, but also, they draw road crews away from fighting the storm. Stay off the roads for now and let them do their work when they can.
The the US 301 (Nice Bridge) bridge over the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia is temporarily closed because of poor visibility and high winds.
Snow crews armed with an array of additional equipment continued to plow District streets Wednesday morning, pausing only when white-out conditions made driving too dangerous, said Karyn LeBlanc of the District Department of Transportation.
"We did let crews pull over to let white-out conditions pass but they're back at it," LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said Bobcats, more dump trucks and front end loaders had been deployed in the effort to clear the ever-growing mountains of snow pushed aside by plows. The snow is being trucked to a lot behind D.C. General Hospital and another at 11th and M streets SE.
"We are in maintenance mode right now," she said. "We are trying to maintain the major roads, bridges and overpasses. Right now I'm looking at U Street [on a traffic camera] and it is passable. It's a little rough, but passable. You can get through."
LeBlanc said the city had plenty of salt to spread on the roads.
LeBlanc said the District's goal was to have all major roadways passable within 48 hours of the storm's end, and to reach all residential streets within 60 hours.
-- Ashley Halsey III
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said the city will be calling in extra equipment to start digging out snowbound residents. Fenty said the District will likely eclipse its all-time snowiest winter so he urged residents to be patients as crews began trying to remove the snow.
"No one ever has seen this much snow in Washington D.C.," said Fenty.
Fenty said he will be requesting that the federal government reimbursed the city for some of its cleanup costs. But Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) sent out a statement this morning asking Fenty to also ask that President Obama declare a federal emergency.
Over the weekend, as the city started digging out of two-feet of snow, Fenty was optimistic that the city could quickly get back to normal. But after this latest storm, Fenty acknowledged the recovery process will stretch into the weekend.
Fenty said business in the city should prepare to reopen in stages, depending on how soon it stops snowing. "We want to be able to work through the night to get as many business up as possible," Fenty said.
Gabe Klein, director of the Department of Transportation, said the consecutive snowfalls have been "absolutely historic."
"In a dense urban environment, we have to deal with this differently," Klein said.
Klein and Fenty said the city has over 200 snow plows currently operating in the city. But the city will be bringing in additional contractors with heavy, as well smaller, more mobile, equipment to begin removing snow from clogged side streets.
-- Tim Craig
February 10, 2010; 12:05 PM ET
Categories: Weather | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, snowstorm, tips for travelers
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