And it was “the” storm, the only serious one we had during the winter of 2010-11, but it left a mark on commuters, transportation agencies and the federal government.
The heavy snow that arrived just as the afternoon commute began had been discussed for several days beforehand. The Capital Weather Gang’s Jason Samenow began an online chat at noon Jan. 26, saying, “Snow will fall very heavily between 4 and 8 p.m. tonight with dangerous travel conditions.” But many people remained at their desks until falling snow made believers out of them. Then they joined the snowplows stuck in one of the worst-ever regionwide traffic jams.
Lessons learned: Looking out the window isn’t always the best forecasting technique. The federal Office of Personnel Management revised its alert system to include a “staggered early departure with a final departure time.” But the best way to skip another Jan. 26 debacle is to a avoid bringing in so many workers in the first place when a rush-hour storm threatens.
The D.C. region’s first new highway in a generation opened in two phases, with a western portion available in February and an eastern side in November. Drivers are still figuring out what to do with the 18 miles.
They chafe at the maximum rush-hour toll of $4 from end to end. Although traffic moves easily, some think the 55 mph speed limit is too low. They routinely ignore it, unless they spot police cars. They think there are too many police cars.
HOT lanes work
This isn’t an event. It’s an evolution. The high-occupancy toll lanes project, one of the biggest highway construction programs in the nation, opened several new bridges and ramps this year along the 14-mile work zone on the western side of the Capital Beltway in Virginia.
At the same time, the project created one of the most complained-about work areas in the region, on the eastbound Dulles Toll Road at the Beltway interchange. Drivers have been confused and annoyed for many months, but project managers have sped up the work and restored several lanes and ramps to their pre-project condition.
The transit authority got much more aggressive with its maintenance program this year. On many weekends, entire sections of rail lines were shut down and riders had to get off the trains to board buses, bridging the gap between open segments.
Meanwhile, trains continued to share tracks around work zones, creating delays that vexed weekend riders. And more escalators were out of service for rehabilitation. Near year’s end, there was a bright spot: Metro celebrated the replacement of the three escalators at the Foggy Bottom station entrance, a perennial bottleneck.