Chaos on the Springfield Interchange

As voters headed to the polls for the "Potomac Primary" on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 12, an ice storm struck the area, causing car accidents and pedestrian falls and snarling traffic.
By Eric M. Weiss and Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 14, 2008

The region's newest, largest and most expensive highway interchange failed dramatically Tuesday night, as many of the Springfield interchange's 50 ramps and sky-high overpasses were shut down by a tenth of an inch of ice.

The failure was one of a series of major traffic problems that ice caused across the region, resulting in commuters, schoolchildren and others being stranded in vehicles for hours. Chain-reaction pileups occurred on Route 210 in Maryland and on the Interstate 395 HOV lanes in Virginia.

Roads remained dangerous and slow in many parts of the region yesterday.

Morning commuters in Frederick and Carroll counties faced frozen conditions that led to numerous accidents. A tractor-trailer carrying formaldehyde crashed on ice-slicked roads in Frederick, blocking Route 15 at Fish Hatchery Road for six hours. The federal government, most area school systems and many businesses opened late in recognition of the challenging commute. Some schools were closed; others closed early because of power outages. The evening commute was expected to remain challenging.

About 160,000 customers were without power yesterday, with utilities promising to restore power to most by this morning. Pepco had as many as 30,000 outages early yesterday morning, but by early afternoon that number was down to about 2,900, spokesman Bob Dobkin said.

Most of the remaining outages were in Montgomery County, which had the heaviest ice accumulation and most of the outages, with the heaviest impact in Potomac, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Silver Spring and Olney, Dobkin said.

More than 100,000 Dominion Virginia customers were affected by the storm, with outages across Northern Virginia, spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson said.

Among those who spent hours trapped in their cars Tuesday was former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III, who was stuck on a Capital Beltway exit ramp for 7 1/2 hours. Gilmore had planned to attend an event at American University before heading to Alexandria for a victory party for Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

"At 7 p.m., I put my foot on the surface of the ramp, and it was like a toboggan track," said Gilmore, who was governor when the Springfield interchange and Woodrow Wilson Bridge projects were begun.

Carol Anne Clark Kelly, a producer at National Public Radio, picked up sons Jack, 7, and Bobby, 11, at Holy Trinity grade school in Georgetown at 4:20 p.m. and headed toward her polling place in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County.

At 6:45 p.m., still stuck a half-mile from her polling place at Pinecrest Golf Course, Kelly and her boys ditched the car in a residential neighborhood and began running through the mud beside Braddock Road. She was wearing black leather heels.

"I got there at 3 minutes before 7, ran down the hall, showed my ID and caught my breath. We voted at 6:59," she said.

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