Maryland warn drivers about p.m. commute

November 7, 2012

The Maryland State Highway Administration monitors road conditions at all times from its operations center near BWI Marshall Airport. (Robert Thomson – The Washington Post)

The Maryland State Highway Administration has issued a warning to drivers that the afternoon commute may be a nasty one, because we may get a sideswipe from a Nor’easter. Follow the forecast with the Capital Weather Gang.

At the moment, the outlook is a familiar one to the D.C. region’s drivers: A little of this and a little of that — probably. We’ll either be okay, or we won’t.

In any case, the late afternoon and evening drives could be longer than normal, and they could be slippery in places.

The transportation administration noted that pavement temperatures are above freezing, so any snow should not form a bond with the road surface, which is good. But if we get snow or sleet in any area, prudent drivers will slow down.

“This is central Maryland’s first winter weather this season and although it may be light, the timing couldn’t be worse,” SHA Administrator Melinda B. Peters said in a statement. “SHA crews will treat the roads with salt when it starts snowing but keep in mind, those trucks are in the same traffic on the same roads as commuters and there may be many places where the salt never reaches the road.”

One of the most successful winter weather techniques many highway departments have used in recent years is to treat road surfaces with brine ahead of a storm’s arrival. They do that even if they’re unsure we’ll actually get the wintry weather.

But one thing they don’t do is put down the brine when they expect a storm will begin as rain. The rain just washes away the treatment. That’s why in a storm like this, the SHA plans to deploy salt trucks once any snow actually starts falling.

That makes sense, but if snow really does start to fall in some areas, it means the salt trucks are going to be out in traffic along with everyone else, which slows them down as much as it slows you down.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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Robert Thomson | November 7, 2012